The best–laid plans of mice and men often go awry. This well-known quote now over 200 years old has given birth to an entire profession, namely Project Management. While the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, may have only been referencing the plight of a mouse who’s well-planned winter hideaway had been blundered by Burns’ garden plow, the saying has been time-tested as tried and true.
I imagine the great Pyramids had a few hiccups, the spectacular Parthenon surely ran over schedule, and let’s not forget the infamous tools we consider second nature like voicemail and faxing that were wrought with false starts and rebuilds. In short, even the most magnificent of projects will likely have stalls. Here are a few steps that can be adopted to bring things back on track.
Tip #1. Identify the Root Cause
Get crystal clear about the ‘why’. This analysis can be quick and dirty or an extensive data-driven evaluation based on troubleshooting and anecdotal information. However derived, be clear about it. Oh, by the way, the root cause is NOT, ‘this customer is cuckoo’. Or should I say, the root cause is USUALLY not ‘this customer is cuckoo’? Tempting as it may be to assign blame to the customer’s approach to project work, I encourage you to resist such an urge. The delays are likely to be related to a series of small events or one or two distinct bigger issues. Dig deeper than the surface apparent issues. By-pass the emotional rants. Focus on tangible trouble spots like resource availability, environment, etc. The best way to flush out the root cause is to keep asking yourself “why” until you’ve drilled down to the lowest level. You may be surprised at what find.
Tip #2. Communicate the issue in a clear and concise manner
Consider using a table format to illustrate the issue’s description, the task owner (s), the next steps, and the due dates. Be advised, stakeholders are speed reading your note for the ‘ask’. What do you need from them? More resources, remove obstacles, send approvals, etc. Without this, they have no clue of what to do with the information you shared. Your communication should reference that you will be tracking progress and will share updates as required. In so doing, stakeholders are made aware they won’t have to ask about the issue resolution. It’s coming because you got this.
Tip #3. RE-plan>
Yes, I know how long it took to get everyone to agree on the project approach and project schedule. Do it again. Now I pause to let you breathe. The actionable tasks required to bring things back on a schedule will need to be tracked. If not added to the plan, at least add a Milestone indicating the change of direction. Once the plan is updated, a new final delivery date will emerge. This is the official definition of moving from RED to GREEN (a re-base lined plan). It’s that simple. Get everyone to agree to the new date and you’re in the green.
Even the most credentialed project lead cannot avoid project stalls. But with savvy analysis, clear communications, and re-planning you will be able to right the ship and make it look easy to boot.