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:
- Restarting Projects
- When a project gets off track, we sometimes cancel it. But since canceling projects takes a lot of courage,
we look for ways to save them if we can. Often, things do turn out OK, and at other times they don't.
There's a third choice, between pressing on with a project and canceling it. We can restart.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone
or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II
of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: II
- The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion
date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience
the unique politics of the critical path.
- Scope Creep and Confirmation Bias
- As we've seen, some cognitive biases can contribute to the incidence of scope creep in projects and
other efforts. Confirmation bias, which causes us to prefer evidence that bolsters our preconceptions,
is one of these.
- Some Risks of Short-Term Fixes
- When we encounter a problem at work, we must choose between short-term fixes (also known as workarounds)
and long-term solutions. Often we choose workarounds without appreciating the risks we're accepting
— until too late.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
- Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
- And on August 28: Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached
the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the
race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical
drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project
sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore
lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look
at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read
more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- 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.