Nike’s Slogan

Just Do It
I found the article below interesting as it discusses the idea that in new projects, specifically those that may be in unfamiliar or unpredictable environments, it may be better to simply act instead of analyzing.

This concept makes me think about our class assignment to build a structure with uncooked spaghetti noodles and marshmallows and how our team reacted (and failed miserably) to that project. We took the first 25% of the project time to map out our strategy, sketch out our detailed design plans, review our budget forecast for materials, and create a rough work breakdown structure. We assigned tasks to team members such as collecting specific supplies, breaking noodles into correct sizes for our base and support beams, configuring the correct marshmallows (small or large) in the right sections, and monitoring the time we had left to complete the project.

So what went wrong? Within the first minute of the ‘build’ stage of our project it was clearly evident our design was not going to be successful. Even though we had mapped and planned out the entire project in detail, and we had two professional engineers working on the project, none of us had any experience building a structure with uncooked noodles and marshmallows. What made us believe our unproven ‘plan’ would be even remotely successful to follow?

The article goes on to discuss the concept of “learning through action” and the steps a project manager can take to move forward, making right and wrong turns, to learn more about the eventual correct direction for the project. The project manager is not ‘flying blind’ in the project, but instead moving carefully into action by simply starting and evaluating the results.

Act:        Take a smart step toward a goal.
Learn:    Evaluate the evidence you have created.
Build:     Repeat Act and Learn steps until you accomplish your goal, opt to change direction based on findings, or discover the goal cannot be competed.

The paper examines how the old methods of planning, forecasting, analyzing, and allocating for new and uncharted projects simply do not result in success. Instead, the authors discuss some points to consider in using the act-learn-build concept above.

Stay within your Acceptable Loss
The act-learn-build model is inherently low risk, but not risk free. Within each phase consider how much you can lose in terms of time and money and still continue moving forward.

Secure only the Commitment you Need for the Next Step
Instead of asking “How do I get everyone committed to my idea?” ask, “What’s the least amount of commitment I need to act?” The idea is to have just enough freedom to continue to explore the concepts.

Manage Expectations
Make it clear to management this is a proof of concept rather than full scale project plan.

Have you ever experienced something similar with being on or managing a ‘new’ project at your company?  Do you have examples where the Act-Learn-Build method may have been a better approach to a project?

Pick Two, but only Two

We kind of have a running joke in our corporate PMO and for project kick-off meetings that the business and department requesting the project can “Pick Two.” The idea comes from the fact that every owner or executive sponsor wants his or her project to be A) Great B) On Time and C) Under Budget. The dilemma occurs obviously that if everyone asked for those three criteria for every project there would simply be no way for the PMO to satisfy for every project.  One of the things I have witnessed in my corporate experience from the business user role, is that everyone, and I have been guilty of this numerous times as well, thinks his or her project should be given the utmost importance and priority in terms of timelines and resources from the PMO.

The idea that the rules and formal structure of the PMO are absolutely necessary for managing successful projects is clearly understood and agreed upon by the business users…they just simply do not apply to “this project, this time.” Everyone thinks their project, this time, warrants circumvention of the rules, maybe it should be moved to the head of the line or have additional resources pulled off other projects or the completion date being quoted needs to be moved up substantially. However, all aspects need to still stay on budget.

I have limited experience in terms of being in the PM role, but I have been on a number of projects from the requester side or as an executive sponsor for our department. The website below lists some good concepts for project managers and I have highlighted a few that I have found critical from my experience.

Learn How to Communicate at Every Level – One of the most important overall skills for a project manager in my opinion is overall communication. The article makes the clear distinction that each level needs to be exposed to a different level of detail and being able to understand those levels is critical to the project success.
Manage Your Stakeholders – “It is imperative to communicate with your stakeholders early…and often.” If I have a few days or even weeks to slowly break the news to my vice president that a project will be over budget or late, it is a much better situation than if we are getting towards the time of the projects where he is asking those questions on his own. If there is enough time to discuss and communicate the negative information, the news can be better managed at all levels.
Praise your Team Accomplishments, No Matter How Small – I have been on countless projects where I felt the PM acted more of a supervisor, simply asking for tasks to be completed, than that of a someone leading a project. It is amazing how far a “Thank you” email or a little comment in the meeting minutes will help the working conditions and motivate the team on the project.

I think the article points out some good fundamental concepts for being a successful project manager. I feel an underlying theme in a number of the topics is managing the expectations of the business and how communicating throughout the project is a critical component for being a success in the eyes of leadership. Being able to get the requesting group to understand they can Pick Two –Great, Cheap, or Fast – and only two for their project, will hopefully set the project into a successful path from the first meeting.

Do you think this concept of Pick Two is a viable one from the role of the PMO?
What about from the business standpoint, it is realistic to only expect two of the three criteria for projects?