Don’t be a tick box project manager

project tick listThe project manager has to perform a number of duties in their role.  One of them is making sure that all the tasks and activities within the plan are completed at the appropriate time.  This is important as, if they are not completed according to plan, the project will be delayed.

However, while it is important to “check” all of the tasks on the plan, it is important that the project manager does not become tunnel visioned and, fall into the trap that just because the items are being “ticked-off” that all is well!

This opens up an important point, just because an item has been checked and closed, it may not mean that the project will deliver what is required.  I have seen project managers become very focused on showing progress that when they receive an update that a task is complete, they want it to be true.  As, if it is true they can continue to report positive progress to senior management.

Also at play is that many people write “to do” lists – I know that my notebooks are full of them.  They are a great way to collect and organise what needs to be done.  While very useful, it also helps re-inforce the “tick box” mind set.  Primarily due to the fact that many people gain huge satisfaction from physically drawing a line through or placing a tick against the items on the list.  It presents a visual cue to our brain that something has been done.  It is also good to be able to review at the end of the day and see all the items that you wanted to get done has been achieved.

Now before anyone starts jumping to the conclusion that “to do” lists and check lists are bad – of course they are not.  The point I am making is that you must ensure that the drive to “tick-off” the items does not cloud the judgement if the task has truely been completed to deliver the required outcome.  The “Outcome” is the reason for doing something – if there is no “outcome” why do it?

So, how to avoid becoming a “tick box” project manager?

The first step should be covered by reading the above – awareness.  Knowing that there is a tendancy to want items to close should result in less inclination to take an item as closed without further investigation.

This is the second step, each item put forward as closed must be tested.  In reality, project managers are generalist so do not know the content of a project in depth.  However, a project manager must develop the skills to be able to ask probing questions, review documents, etc so as to reach a level of confidence that an item has been closed.   Where verification requires expert knowledge, you can arrange for peer review by resources with the necessary skills.

To close, understanding that there is a natural desire to want to “tick-off” items should help us all to remember the need to evidence that an item is closed.




The $99 project – new project managers beware!

New Project ManagerYou made your career choice – project manager <tick>.  So being the professional you are, you invested time and probably money learning the trade, studying and passing your PMP exam.  A good feeling, I have training, showed I know what is involved by passing an exam so ready to go.

You walk into your managers office, congratulates you and then (with a twinkle in the eye), gives you your first project.  Then goes on to give you the background and says “don’t worry you have my full support”.

Your manager duly issues the e-mail welcoming you onboard and letting everyone know you are now the project manager of the “$99 project”.  You are keen, you are excited and ready to go.

You start reaching out to your stakeholders, colleagues and you soon realise that the $99 project” = mission impossible.  It is a project that has not been defined, has no support, no funding other than the token $99, no credibility and, in all honesty, you would have more chance delivering world peace.

In all seriousness, most project managers encounter the “$100 project” at some point and the trick is not to let it set back your career.

So how to avoid getting tainted?

Ideally it is to identify that the project can not be delivered before it is formally taken on.  When your manager is trying to appoint you, make sure you probe further to understand the full background, especially how many times it has been tried before and the reasons for failure.

If you can’t duck taking it on, agree an initial review period with your manager.  Offer that you will conduct a 2 week review to assess viability, etc and that you will come back with a proposal.  This means that you will have a check point that gives you an exit plan before you are seen as being responsible.

When you have completed the review, you can go back with your assessment and then a list of what is needed to progress the project.  This gives you a chance to set it up on sound footing.  For instance, you may propose the next step is funding to develop a business case or proof on concept.  This give you the opportunity to secure funding and resources to review and research properly to develop a credible plan (or conclude the project can not be delivered).

While this may not lead to the correct answer that the sponsor is looking for, it will allow for the correct level of research to allow for an informed decision.  If that is that it does not “stack-up”, then your manager has the data to push for the project to be cancelled.  This helps the organisation as no more time or money will be wasted.

There is also the scenario that your research will reveal a credible and cost vaible approach – one that would have not been found without the correct research.  This will make the sponsor and your manager happy so you will be the super star project manager.  Very good for the career.

The First $20 Million is the Hardest DVDIn case you are wondering why I chose the “$99 project” for this illustration, it is a play on the “$99 laptop” that for so many years was an impossible dream.  In fact there was a very funny film based on this, “The first $20 million is always the hardest“, cheesy but delivers the point very well on how newbies are so keen to impress they will sign-up to anything.

However, as we now have seen, the $99 laptop is close to being a reality and they are being shipped to locations in desparate need to access computers… there is hope for all projects.  Maybe someone would like to take another look at project “world peace”.



Project Management – a new chapter

project management blog new startOver the past 5 years this website has strived to provide thoughtful and insightful project management articles from leading practioner’s in their field, such as Elizabeth Harrin of A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.  Now the time has come to start a new chapter still following the ethos of providing project management articles that provide benefit and value to project management professionals of all levels.

Project management has continued to develop and mature in all areas – innovative approach, agile delivery, lean, tools and processes.  Some ideas and concepts genuinely move forward the art of project management, others are more appropriate for the class room and academic study.

Since the global recession of 2008, every organisation is looking to do more with less.  Return on investment has become a key indicator.  Not just the classic “pitch high and forget” in order to secure project funding.  Now sponsors are being held accountable for delivering the benefits within their business case to ensure the benefits are realised and the ROI achieved.

This drive to ensure that projects are delivered and benefits realised has meant that many organisations have taken the decision to build project management offices (PMO’s).  The rationale being that the PMO will provide robust governance, tools and processes to ensure that the correct projects are selected, mobilised quickly, executed with rigour and the benefits realised.

These are exciting times for change professionals but only those who are prepared to adapt to the changing environment.  Therefore, it is important for every project manager to constantly be on a journey of continuous improvement and not just see the 3 year renewal cycles of Project Development Unit’s (PDU’s) as a tick box exercise (choose training that will add and expand your skills).

So against this backdrop, this blog will provide regular updates over the coming months and years.  If you would like to contribute an article that would benefit the community, please visit the Contribute page.

Wishing you success in your project management endeavors.