The Bump in the Night (1 of 5)

via Flickr by James Jordan
via Flickr by James Jordan

Are you prepared to cope when things go bump in the night?

As project managers we have become proficient in transforming the project charter (in whatever form we get it) into a project plan (hopefully, including some risk management) and then charging through plan execution to closure.  But, what happens when thing go bump in the night during execution?  Have you prepared for a discontinuity? I’m talking about the metaphorical equivalent of the plan dropping off the edge of the earthquake damaged bridge.  More specifically, something like Apollo 13, an onboard explosion that instantly trashed the entire project’s plan and requiring some heavy-duty problem solving and decision making to create a new plan in short order (if the astronauts are to make it back alive).  NASA didn’t have this scenario in their risk management plan, much less having a mitigation plan.  Yes, I know this is an extreme example and most of us don’t work on projects where people’s lives hanging in the balance, however, some of us have managed projects were the organization’s future is at risk.  It is only when we are prepared for the worst, or at least something worse then you will ever see, does everything else seem easy.

Now that I have your attention by setting the extreme boundary of the topic, let’s take a look at our project teams and think about a few thing that may be taken for granted or just not considered, at the outset.  Things that may help us shine, even in everyday situations, because we are mentally prepared.

Project Management 101, with the PMI PMBOK® as its underpinning; have taught us the methodology for putting together a good project plan, executing that plan and bringing in a successful project.  No problem, with a good plan and team of SMEs (subject matter experts) we can sleep at night.  Right?  Sometimes.

Even with a solid project plan created through your competent leadership and active participation of an outstanding team of SMEs, have you ever stopped to think about all the problems that get solved and all the decisions that get made in the course of executing the plan, most of which were never considered or documented as part of the planning process, even if you did risk management?  Some are at the day-to-day level of individual SMEs, while others may require the involvement of senior executive management, and all points in between.  What will the effect of any one of them be on the overall project effort and outcome?  Some are constraint changing, other plan stopping, and many go unnoticed.

In the posts that follow we will consider three items the PM should be concerned with:

  • Are the problems/decisions being addressed by people with the right level of responsibility and/or expertise?
  • Does the project team have a process for problem solving and decision making to handle the daily dips in the road?
  • Are you and the execution team ready for a bump in the night?

Needless to say, this discussion is situational, dependent upon the size of the project, its complexity and it criticality.  On the higher end of the scale, like the Apollo 13, it is more important to formalize a process for problem solving and decision making.  However, even on the lower-end of the project spectrum, there are always benefits for the PM to have at least thought through some possible scenarios.


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