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Having a plan vs. planning

Plan vs. Planning
Plan vs. Planning

As some of my readers know, I have combined my long daily commute with my interest in American history by listening to a biography of every U.S. president in chronological order. I listen more for leadership reasons than political.

I recently finished Dwight D. Eisenhower’s biography.  While Ike was seen by many as a “retiree president” who primarily golfed his way through two terms, he actually used his military knowledge for a lot of behind-the-scenes foreign policy diplomacy.

One of the more interesting quotes he is known for is, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

I found that to be very enlightening from a military perspective. The man who masterminded D-Day certainly had a plan. But he knew that there were many things that would go wrong and situations that would change.  He knew as soon as execution began, situations beyond his control would immediately cause them to deviate from the plan.

But the process of planning includes considering what can go wrong and establishing alternatives. That provides the indispensable aspect of planning.

Planning in project management

This is just as true in project management as in the life or death world of the military. Every competent project manager knows that every project needs a project plan. And every project manager knows that as soon as the plan is done and the project begins, deviations begin rearing their ugly heads.

That’s where issue and risk analysis come into play. In addition to developing a detailed project plan, project managers should do extensive risk analysis. This should be done early and often.

At the beginning of any project, the project manager should meet with all project stakeholders to brainstorm on any risks that could be faced.

With every risk, analysis should include the likelihood of the risk occurring, the impact to the project should it occur, and mitigation plans to avoid the risk, deal with the risk, or accept the risk.

This type of planning allows for many deviations in the original plan. The project manager knows how to deal with those deviations and what to do when they happen.

You can’t think of everything

I’ve experienced pushback from people in the past when it comes to risk analysis. They tell me that I’m wasting my time. You can’t think of every bad thing that will happen. You can’t tell the future.

True. You’ll never think of every possible thing that can go wrong. That’s not the point. The point is to think of as many possibilities that you can. Brainstorming like that and coming up with mitigation strategies will help make it easier to zig when things zag.

Mitigation strategies provide ideas that lead to mitigations for other things that go wrong. That’s where the planning is infinitely more valuable than the plan.

Being on the same page

Another major outcome of planning (rather than the plan) is the communication that it generates. Have you ever been on a project where people are asking “What are we doing and how are we going to do it?” They may look at a plan. But that may not make it clear.

When they are involved in the planning, they have a keener sense of the project purpose. They are also much more aware of how the project will be managed.

If they are involved in risk mitigation practices, they understand that the straight line of the plan, may be a circuitous path. But they know the end point will not vary too much.

Conclusion

Many project managers develop a plan and stubbornly stick to it. Their inflexibility can cause many problems for the project. They end up focusing more on the plan than the original purpose and intent of the project.

Having the flexibility to deviate from the plan can be the key to their success. The magic is in the planning, not in the plan.

What have you accomplished through planning?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to keep team members accountable

Keep team members accountable
Keep team members accountable

When I was a kid, I remember my mom would ask my siblings and me to do some kind of chore. The three of us would end up arguing about who should do it.  After a while, mom would say, “Just forget about it. I’ll do it.”

Modern day children would probably be fine with that. Problem solved. Back to Instagram. But we knew that my mom was practicing her fine art of the guilt trip. I wasn’t about to let my mom do what my brother or sister should rightfully do. One of us invariably gave in before we would let mom do our chore.

I once had a boss that had a similar approach. He would ask someone to do something without an indication of urgency or a deadline. He would wait about fifteen minutes, and then do it himself.

When his direct report went to perform the task, he or she would find that the boss had already done it. The resulting conversation would go similar to this:

Employee: “Boss, I thought you asked me to do that task, but I saw that you already did it.”

Boss: “What were you waiting for? When I ask you to do something, I expect you to do it.”

It was his passive-aggressive-control-freak-douchey approach of saying, “Anything I ask you to do should be your top priority.”

Over the years, I’ve seen many instances of managers who get sub-optimal results from their team members because of their poor tactics of keeping their people accountable. Some use negative tactics like those described above. Others allow their people to get away with not doing their assigned tasks. This creates a low producing team which hurts morale in the long run.

It’s about communication

So how do you get your team to do what you ask them to do? The key is being explicit in your communication.

Tell them exactly what you want them to do. High level managers get busy. They often have their heads full of details of many other matters. As a result, they sometimes give directions in an email that can be vague. Imagine getting an email that says, “Call that one guy about that issue I emailed you about last month.”

That sounds extreme, but I’ve had managers provide about as much information. One manager would email me an attached document with no instructions on how to act on it. Taking just a few minutes to provide the recipient appropriate content around what you want will save you more time explaining it again.

Provide a deadline. Telling them exactly when you would like to have the assignment complete will provide them a lot of clarity. If it is of the utmost priority, let them know. If you don’t need it until next week, that will help them prioritize it with other tasks.

The deadline should be specific. Telling them it’s “no hurry” doesn’t tell them if that means next week or next month.

Keep team members accountable

Once you have handed off the assignment, you need to be able to count on them to finish it. Some managers do this by checking in on them so frequently, it hinders their ability to get the task done. Micromanaging is not an appropriate way to hold people accountable.

Provide a checkpoint. If the task is significant enough, schedule a meeting on the deadline for them to present it to you. This should appropriately relay your expectations to the team member.

If the assignment doesn’t warrant a formal meeting, describe your expectations on how to inform you that the task has been completed. If you want them to email someone, tell them to copy you on the email. Simply emailing you that it is completed may provide you with enough information.

Write it down.  I’ve often had team members who don’t write their tasks down. The direct correlation between not writing it down and forgetting it is not surprising to me. I encourage people to write their tasks down to avoid forgetting. To further encourage it, they see me writing it down. I also record the deadline that I asked for.

They learn quickly that I won’t forget the assignment and that I will follow up when the deadline passes. This encourages them to get their tasks done on a timely manner.

Track missed deadlines. I generally keep a spreadsheet of tasks that I assign. I’ll list the request, the person I assigned, the date asked and the deadline. Once the task is done, I’ll track the date it was finished.

This allows me to fairly assess who is meeting their commitments. If I see a trend of frequent missed deadlines, I can sit down and talk to the person with all of the facts. Rather than saying, “You miss a lot of deadlines.” I can say, “Over the past three weeks, you have missed the deadline on four tasks.”

Getting them to communicate

It is also imperative to teach the team your preferences on how to keep you up to date.

How to update you. Let them know whether you prefer a conversation or an email, or some other way of being informed. If you’re not specific about how they update you, they’ll either guess or, more likely, not follow up at all.

When to update you. Let team members know your expectations for when and how often to provide feedback. If the deadline is further out, you may want periodic updates. Follow up with them if they miss an update to let them know you haven’t forgotten your request.

Conclusion

Many managers do not hold their team members accountable. Once that precedent is set, it is hard to consistently reestablish accountability. A manager should be consistent. Clearly communicating your expectations and following up consistently will teach your team to be responsible for their assigned tasks.

How do you keep your team accountable?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Scheduling backwards to be on time

Scheduling backwards
Scheduling backwards

I’ve always wanted to get into the mind of people who are habitually late. As one who prides himself on promptness, I hate to be late. On the rare occasion that I am late, I’m very apologetic.

But people who are always late must be intentionally late. When they stroll in ten minutes late for a meeting, have they thought about how they’ve negatively affected the mood of the team? Did they have any consideration of the time of the other people who showed up on time only to wait for them?

I doubt it.

But there is another set of people who hate to be late, but still make a habit of being late. They know they have that meeting in ten minutes, but don’t stop to think about the documents they’ll need to gather for it, or the time it will take them to get to another floor or another building to get there on time.
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