Turning the car key in the door lock, Marian was relieved that they'd finally agreed to get out for lunch, because she wanted a change of scene for the conversation she and Kevin and James were about to have. The door locks all clicked open, and the three of them hopped in.
"Where to," she said.
Kevin answered from the back seat: "You have to ask?"
Marian looked up at Kevin in the rear-view mirror. "Just trying to give you an opportunity for input," she replied. At the end of the loop road, she turned left towards Mike's, where they always went for lunch when projects were in trouble.
James began immediately. "I wish we'd found out about the Georgetown products before we did the Pyramid modules — we wouldn't be here now. But how could we have known?"
Kevin, of course, had the answer. "They could've told us," he said dryly. Marian and James laughed weakly.
"Yeah, there is that," Marian said. "But they've done this to us before. You'd think we would have learned by now."
Projects are full
of surprises — that's
them projectsIndeed. Projects are full of surprises — that's what makes them projects. Still, we can reduce the incidence of surprises by cleverly sequencing the project's tasks. Here are some tips for using schedule to manage risk.
- Avoid the logical-order trap
- Some projects impose a logical order on task sequence. A building, for example, has to have its foundation in place before the first structural elements go up. But unless the laws of physics intervene, keep an open mind about the order of things.
- Exploit leverage
- Give preference to tasks that reduce costs, either because they spin off tools you can use, or because you can learn something valuable, or because they provide a morale boost.
- Delay creating what you don't need
- Building or designing something before it's needed creates constraints through commitment. Delaying preserves flexibility.
- If you think something might be difficult, find out early
- Schedule the solutions to unsolved problems so that bad news arrives early, when you have time to sort out alternate approaches, and before other elements impose constraints.
- Use reconnaissance teams
- Designate teams to perform reconnaissance in force, looking for traps before the main body of the project reaches them. Give these teams enough budget to run tests that reveal weaknesses before you've made major commitments.
- Avoid resource optimization
- Shortening the critical path by optimizing resource allocation is a risky strategy. Most development projects aren't predictable enough for this kind of fine-tuning.
- Get comfortable with placeholders
- We use placeholders when scheduling requires them, especially in the critical path. But building placeholders is a wonderful way to reconnoiter — to find out about trouble early. Use them more often.
You can do the same things when you read. Sometimes reading the end first gives you a useful mental framework for the beginning and middle. If you're doing that right now, I hope you enjoy reading the beginning and the middle of this article. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Finger Puzzles and "Common Sense"
- Working on complex projects, we often face a choice between "just do it" and "wait, let's
think this through first." Choosing to just do it can seem to be the shortest path to the goal,
but it rarely is. It's an example of a Finger Puzzle.
- More Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix
- The Eisenhower Matrix is useful for distinguishing which tasks deserve attention and in what order.
It helps us by removing perceptual distortion about what matters most. But it can't help as much with
some kinds of perceptual distortion.
- Projects as Proxy Targets: I
- Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they
won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
- Unresponsive Suppliers: II
- When a project depends on external suppliers for some tasks and materials, supplier performance can
affect our ability to meet deadlines. How can communication help us get what we need from unresponsive
- The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we
tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.