There’s an adage in my business entrepreneurs group that if you carry on doing the same things, you’ll end up with the same results. If you want to earn more profits, be better recognised, be seen as the go to expert, you need to do things differently to the competition. Well the same is true in project management: Look at the cartoon below:
How many projects have you seen where the plan is a mess, the project is late and over budget. I was involved in helping turnaround a failing systems implementation. They’d had three failed plans already, each time failing to deliver to a set end date. My recommendation was to plan the project left to right with the optimum level of resources, testing and minimal overlapping of tasks. If the resulting end date was unacceptable, they could then look at increasing resources, shortening some activities and overlapping others but with full recognition of the risks that each of those actions introduced.
We were re-planning in January and my view was that a November implementation was the best realistic compromise. Management insisted on targeting May! May was missed so more re-planning went in to try and hit firstly July, then October/November. The project finally went live in February. I maintain that if we had aimed for November in the first place we would have hit it because we wouldn’t have wasted so much effort on all the extra re-planning.
The project was late again and again because it kept repeating the same old behaviours and mistakes. My approach wasn’t radical. In fact it’s standard best practice. But it was different for that project, and would have delivered better results.
I was recently involved on the periphery of another re-plan taking place as I joined a project. This was part of a process where the overall plan is refreshed and more detail added on a three monthly cycle. Good practice and so far so good. When they did the last refresh, there had been some issues with hitting deadlines for the re-plan and getting client sign-off in a timely manner.
So did they do things differently this time to avoid repeating the same mistakes and having the same problems. In a word, NO! Deadlines were missed, escalations ignored, review meetings not set up in good time. All classic mistakes that were being repeated all over again. Same old approach, same old results.
I’ve given two examples from planning, but the same principles apply through out project management. For example, if you always make every decision without consulting your team, don’t expect them to suddeny come up with answers if you get stuck.
Learning from experiences
You will only learn from mistakes and experience if you take positive steps to do so. I immediately put together the high level schedule for the next quarterly re-baseline for the project I just mentioned. If you are a project manager just starting out or with limited experience it’s better (and a lot less painful) to learn from other people’s mistakes. How do you get to hear about those mistakes? After all, most people don’t exactly want to broadcast their failures.
Well firstly, read blogs from people like me. I have enough of a track record to be able to afford to admit my mistakes. There are a few project management bloggers like me that want to put something back into the profession and want to help new project managers succeed.
Secondly, if your organisation is reasonably serious about project management it should be conducting post implementation reviews and lessons learned exercises. Ask around, particularly if you have a cetral PMO or portfolio management team. They should be able to point you in the direction of key resources and libraries.
Thirdly, network. Connect with other project managers in your own organisation or use LinkedIn to network with project managers in other organisations. There are some great project management groups on LinkedIn that have great discussions on all manner of topics. And people love answering questions raised in those groups. Don’t ask if anyone has failed doing xyz. Rather ask, “I’m new to project management and I’m about to do xyz, has anyone got any tips to help me succeed”. You’ll be surprised at the responses you’ll get.
Finally, you can get yourself a mentor. Some orgnisations have formal mentoring schemes – ask your HR department. As a consultant I have often mentored junior team members in the projects I have lead. I really enjoy that sort of thing. I also offer mentoring as a paid for service and would be happy to arrange a call to discuss whether that would be right for you.
At the end of the day, if something you do works well, then carry on. But if you want to see an improvement in delivery or avert past mistakes, you need to try a different approach. Getting some advice and guidance isn’t about giving in, it’s the right way to build your experience quickly and as painlessly as possible.
Same old approach, same old results!