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:
- Status Risk and Risk Status
- One often-neglected project risk is the risk of inaccurately reported status. That shouldn't be surprising,
because we often fail to report the status of the project's risks, as well. What can we do to better
manage status risk and risk status?
- Projects as Proxy Targets: II
- Most projects have both supporters and detractors. When a project has been approved and execution begins,
some detractors don't give up. Here's Part II of a catalog of tactics detractors use to sow chaos.
- Unnecessary Boring Work: II
- Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from
the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.
- Down in the Weeds: II
- To be "down in the weeds," in one of its senses, is to be lost in discussion at a level of
detail inappropriate to the current situation. Here's Part II of our exploration of methods for dealing
with this frustrating pattern so common in group discussions.
- Managing Wishful Thinking Risk
- When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking.
Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 12: Cognitive Biases at Work
- Cognitive biases can lead us to misunderstand situations, overlook options, and make decisions we regret. The patterns of thinking that lead to cognitive biases provide speed and economy advantages, but we must manage the risks that come along with them. Available here and by RSS on August 12.
- And on August 19: Motivated Reasoning: I
- When we prefer a certain outcome of a decision process, we risk falling into a pattern of motivated reasoning. That can cause us to gather data and construct arguments that lead to the outcome we prefer, often outside our awareness. And it can happen even when the outcome we prefer is known to threaten our safety and security. Available here and by RSS on August 19.
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