You 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”.