Kick The Field Goal! What American Football Can Teach Us About Project Management

With the NFL season about to begin I thought I would share a project management lesson I learned many years ago from, oddly enough, watching an NFL telecast. The color analyst was the legendary John Madden.

Team A was trailing Team B 21-0 but it was still early (mid second quarter). They were confronted with a 4th down and goal to go situation from the 5 yard line. Fans of Team A, concerned with the large deficit, were no doubt screaming for their team to go for the touchdown. This is when Madden made the point that resonated with me from a project management perspective:

“I would kick the field goal here. The longer you are at 0 points, the harder it becomes to move off of 0. Once you have points you have something to build on.”

There are those in the modern sports analytics field who might argue this but that is not the point of this post. Madden’s comment made me realize that the longer a project goes without delivering business value (known as the “Business Objectives” of the project), the harder it gets to deliver them. Some of the main reasons for this are:

  1. Business or IT Management and Stakeholders continue to propose grand ideas which significantly increase the scope without going through formal Scope Change Management.
  2. The Project lacks a Charter or Definition with sufficient detail, making “scope creep” hard to define.
  3. The Project is trying to deliver the Project Objectives all at once instead of a phased approach which can deliver some business value earlier.

I recommend having well defined Business and Project Objectives. Manage Scope jealously. Deliver at least some of the Business Value as early as possible and in phases.

The longer a project drags on without delivering something, the harder it gets to deliver anything. So”Kick the Field Goal”. Get off of “zero” as soon as possible. Your business and project (and your career) will be the better for it.

A reminder that my Kindle book “Project Management For The Real World” is available at

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B089KRDDVN

It’s OK To Not Have A Five Year Plan

Have you ever encountered the dreaded “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question during a job interview? I would guess most of us have. There are not many great answers to this question. Many will sound like either you are already plotting to leave the job for which you are currently interviewing or you lack ambition.

I admire those who, at an early age, already know what they want to do and plot a course of action. I was not one of them. Even after college graduation, I wondered what I was good at and what type of work I could be happy with. Ultimately I settled on an approach of being ready for opportunity.

For those of you who don’t have a ready answer to the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question, I offer the following guidance: Be the type of person that is ready for opportunity when it presents itself.

So how do you do that? Here is a blueprint:

  1. Do your current job, even one you don’t like, with diligence. Trust me, people will notice.
  2. Go beyond your current job description and take on some of the tasks associated with the next level which you wish to be promoted. Promotion becomes easy when you have already demonstrated your competence at that level.
  3. Make learning a lifetime habit. Take evening courses at your local community college. Read books. Search the internet for current best practices in your areas of interest. Listen to relevant career-oriented podcasts. Attend seminars. Work towards a certification. Spend your spare time wisely. Invest in yourself.
  4. Never be satisfied with how good of a job you are doing. Always be looking for better ways to accomplish your tasks. Document your processes and evolve them over time with new information. Share them with others.

So back to the original question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I will leave the exact phrasing of the answer to you, but incorporate the concept of “I’m always ready for opportunity” with the blueprint steps noted above. If I were interviewing someone, that would be an answer that would impress me.

A reminder that my Kindle book “Project Management For The Real World” is available at

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B089KRDDVN

The Five Steps to Successful Project Management

There are no “secrets” to project management success. It’s a combination of education in PM best practices (the Project Management Body of Knowledge, or PMBOK), communication skills, and staying confident, focused and cool under fire. Most successful Project Managers follow these five steps:

Step 1: Know Your Outcomes

In the Project Charter topic, I mentioned the first and most important step in your project is to properly define the business and project outcomes. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know you have arrived? This is as true for personal projects and goals as it is for business projects.

Step 2: Have a Plan and Take Action

You can speak passionately about your desired outcomes but unless you do something about it they are as worthless as having no outcomes at all. Taking action starts with good planning and the topics on the “Project Management Plan” and the “Project Plan” are excellent places to start. Once you have a plan, you can begin execution.

Step 3: Collect Relevant Information Regarding Progress

It is a rare project that goes exactly according to plan. You need to regularly evaluate whether your outcomes are still achievable and the level of progress towards achieving those outcomes. Having this information leads to the next step …

Step 4: Be Flexible and Change Plans as needed

If your project is not proceeding according to the plan, be prepared to change the plan and do whatever it takes to achieve your desired outcomes. This could mean some combination of the following: changing the order of activities, reassigning resources, changing the scope, crashing the schedule, etc.

The Marines have a motto: “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome”. This is also a good motto for Project Managers.

Step 5: Look and Feel Confident

Your project team will take its cue from you. If you are expressing doubts, look worried and anxious, or show uncertainty, your team will start to feel the same. Using PM best practices and following Steps 1 thru 4 in this post will allow you to proceed with confidence.

Note: Much more detail on successful Project Management can be found in my Kindle book “Project Management For The Real World”, available at

https://www.amazon.com/author/lettera

 

 

What is a Project?

Project_Management_Knowledge_Areas

Many in the working world, who are not Project Managers by trade, manage projects. In many cases, they do not recognize they are managing a project and treat it as just another task assignment without applying project management disciplines. This can be very stressful as projects can descend into chaos without proper management.

If you are given a goal and it has a due date you now have a project. It can range from the trivial (“let’s go out to lunch Friday”) to the very complex (“we need a new payroll system”). There is a tipping point where you need to start applying project management discipline, with the depth varying with the complexity.

If you are the person responsible for meeting the goal and the date, then congratulations, you’re the Project Manager, whether that is your formal title or not. Recognizing your role is the first step to improving your chances of success. There are many more ways to fail than to succeed. By applying fundamentals, you eliminate ways to fail.

In the upcoming blog posts I will introduce you to fundamentals that will help you succeed in your job and your life.

Decision Making Process Part 6 – Summary

In the preceding series of posts, I presented a process I use for making key decisions. Now I will present a brief summary of those posts.

  • We struggle with some decisions because…
    • There are too many choices
    • The apparent choices are all bad
    • The apparent choices seem all equally good
    • Loss Aversion – we fear risking something we have for something we want
    • Fear of being wrong
    • Fear of being criticized
  • Poor decision making process results in…
    • Regret
    • Unintended consequences
  • Good decision making process will…
    • Eliminate decision paralysis
    • Reduce stress
    • Keep you moving forward
    • Eliminate regret
    • Look at decisions as a “portfolio” instead of isolated events
  • The process in 8 steps…
    • Begin with the end in mind – know your desired outcomes and how you will measure success
    • Analyze your alternatives – there may be more than you think!
    • Identify and mitigate risks
    • Distance yourself from short-term emotion
    • Create contingency plans
    • Make the decision
    • Evaluate the outcomes
    • Evaluate the process

Try using the process on your next key decision. Tweak it as needed for your specific circumstances. Leave some comments on this post as to what worked and what didn’t.

 

Decision Making Process Part 5i – Evaluate the Process

For the eighth and  final step in the decision making process you will evaluate the process itself. You do this in the spirit of continuous process improvement. This will improve your future decision making process and outcomes.

Here are some questions to ask yourself regarding your process:

  • For good outcomes:
    • What process steps were the most useful?
    • What could you have done to make the good outcomes even better?
  • For negative outcomes:
    • Did the process fail or was it circumstances beyond your control?
    • Did you skip steps?
    • Were there some steps you did not give sufficient time and energy?
    • Did you anticipate and plan for this negative outcome? If not, what would you have done different?

The next post will be the final post in the Decision Making series and I will summarize and give you some additional thoughts on the topic.

Decision Making Process Part 5h – Evaluate the Outcomes

At an appropriate point in time after you have made the decision, you should evaluate the outcomes as part of a program of continuous improvement in the decision making process. Here are the steps to take:

  • Revisit the “measures of success” you defined in the first step in the process. In that step, you determined what success would look like and how you would measure success. This is the time to take those measurements.
  • Evaluate the “degree of success” for each measure. Not all of your success criteria will be a binary “yes or no”. Often you will have achieved some measure of success but perhaps not all you targeted. This is a key input to the next step.
  • Determine if additional activity, time or resources will increase your degree of success. This is a key decision point. You don’t want to “throw good money and time after bad” hoping to succeed. You will need to decide if the calculated risk of continuing to invest more in the decision is worth it to you. Employ the same decision making methodology for this as used in the original decision.

In the next post I will present the final step in the 8 step process, where you evaluate the process itself to help you improve your future decisions.

Decision Making Process Part 5g – Make the Decision

At this point you have created a vision of the end result, analyzed your alternatives, identified and mitigated your risks, made contingency plans and distanced yourself from short-term emotions. You should also understand the constraints that limit your choices (e.g. “I can’t move from my current home”).

It is now time to make the decision. You will compare all of your alternatives, with an understanding of the range of outcomes and risks, and make and commit to a decision with confidence. There will be no need to look back with regret, no matter the result, because your process was sound and you made the best call based on the information available to you.

At this point you should prepare a timeline of major milestones. These are significant points in time where something (good or otherwise) should have happened by then and you will use those milestones as opportunities to evaluate your decision and make course corrections if necessary.

Decision Making Process Part 5f – Make Contingency Plans

Once you have identified your most important risks the next step is to make sure you have at least one contingency plan (aka “Plan B”) for every risk. These are alternate plans you will use in case the risk occurs despite your efforts to mitigate. For example, if you are buying a new home and expect to close on a certain date, you should have contingency plans for living arrangements and storage in case the date moves out.

Here are a few ideas to help you identify the kinds of contingency plans you may need:

  • Conduct a “pre-mortem” – This is a look into the future where you ask yourself “My decision failed – what were the causes?” Was it lack of time, money, or support? Were you being too ambitious?
  • Conduct a “pre-parade” – Ask yourself “My decision was wildly successful – what were the reasons?” Brainstorming the answers to this question will help you avoid problems and identify ways to ensure success.
  • Set a milestone – This is a point in time where you will evaluate your efforts and decide to carry on, make a course correction, or stop altogether. This will prevent you from falling into the “sunk cost” trap (Where you continue with a bad investment in time or money simply because you already have invested so much).
  • Be prepared for unexpected success – Your endeavor may be more successful sooner than you anticipated. This might mean more of your time and money to keep up. Be prepared in advance to react quickly.