Some time back I was responsible for a portfolio of projects being done within the finance organization of my company. One of the projects was outsourced to a large consulting firm who supplied the project management, analysis, and development resources to the project. I would hold weekly meetings with the project manager who consistently gave me a "thumbs up" on the project up to the first key milestone being hit. When the week of the first milestone approached, he announced that the milestone was going to have to slip by a week to ensure successful delivery. The next week came along and again the project slipped a week. This went on for two more weeks with the promise of "we'll for sure nail it next week." I decided to do some crawling around the project to assess where the project was really at. Turns out we were at least a month away from delivering to the milestone which was already a month late.
Needless to say I was less than thrilled with the consulting firm running the project. They sent out one of their heavyweight project managers to assess the situation. After two hours of reviewing the project he reported back to me that the project had slipped, not due to anything his organization had or hadn't done, but because of things we as the client did to cause the problems. Needless to say I pretty much lost it with him. I then went through the project plan with him and went through each task and peppered him with questions about why his project manager hadn't managed the execution of the project and why we were continuing to get a 'thumbs up" when in fact the project had slipped horribly. After my inquisition he said he'd follow up and get back to me. I'm still waiting.
Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Despite how pretty a project schedule looks, how clear the organization chart is, or how well articulated the risks and issues are, the most successful projects execute great to a great plan. Solid project management execution means driving the plan, making adjustments as necessary to address unforeseen issues (if you are able to run projects that never have issues email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; I'd like to spend a day in your world), and removing roadblocks which can inhibit successful completion. The project manager has to stay steady at the helm making sure these things happen; they won't just happen by themselves. To articulate this a bit more here are three formulas for you to keep in mind:
Planning + Execution = Project Success
Execution - Planning = Randomized Flailing
Planning - Execution = Well-Dressed Inertia
Through my experience I've come up with six techniques that can help you as a project manager better ensure project success. While this isn't an exhaustive list of everything you can do, it does highlight some specific areas which can help keep a project from derailing:
Excellent planning coupled with strong execution is crucial to ensuring the success of any project. Subtract planning or execution from a project, and you either get the randomized flailing of a project out of control, or the well-dressed inertia of a good-looking project going nowhere.
Lonnie Pacelli along with his wife Patty created the Six-Word Lessons series. He is the author of Six-Word Lessons for Project Managers, Six-Word Lessons to Avoid Project Disaster, and Six-Word Lessons for Dads with Autistic Kids. See more at lonniepacelli.com.
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