Project Management When the Sky is Falling

January 20, 2016 by FlexPro

stressWhen a project team embarks on a long-term venture, the plan is collaboratively designed and agreed upon, timelines are firmly set, and expectations are clearly stated. From the moment the project kicks off, a group of cross-functional experts guides it smoothly to the finish line while working as an unbreakable unit to power through obstacles toward seamless delivery.  Perfection is guaranteed so long as the timeline is followed, right?

Stepping out of the textbook and into the real world, anyone who has spent more than a few days in the office knows project management means much more than following what’s written on day one.  ‘By the book’ is almost never the case.

As a Project Manager in a world that demands efficiency without sacrificing quality, there is little room for errors, delays, or mistakes that would jeopardize punctual completion.  Within the realm of healthcare, interruptions mean risks to patient care and consumer well-being.

Unfortunately, a multitude of factors can, and will, cause deadlines to be pushed, project teams to falter, and stakeholders to voice their concern. So how does the captain of a ship that will almost certainly sail off course handle the delays that come with every bit of rough water?

This week, we take a look at a true inevitable in the world of project management.  When target dates are looking bleak and entire timelines seem in flux, a strong PM can utilize the following to get back on track:

Recognize & Report

At some point over the course of a long career, a project manager will encounter a situation that is going south in a hurry.  While it may be tempting to keep issues quiet and look for the fix before word of postponement spreads, communication is key. From the first sign of trouble, keep the team on the same page so that everyone can adjust accordingly.  Document expected delays so that timelines can be altered to reflect new goals and issues can be traced back to their source.

Identify Constraints

Once a problem has been acknowledged, solving a particular instance may only be a temporary measure.  Depending on the type of challenge, identifying the cause may positively impact future tasks on the same project and mitigate further pauses within the set plan.  Resources, external agreements, capacity constraints, unproductive team members, and quality concerns are among the most common origins for stoppages.  Understanding the root of an existing issue is an important responsibility for a well-prepared PM.

Assess & Adjust

In some cases, the damage to the timeline has already been done and the completion date is steadily floating away from its original docking point.  It’s time to stop the bleeding and calmly make adjustments to the project plan.  Reaffirm commitments from all parties on which the success of the plan relies and correct the finish dates for both the minor tasks and big picture. With everyone on the same page, it should be much easier to get moving toward the goal once again.

Manage Expectations

As with many facets of project management, communication is everything.  The final piece to the recovery puzzle is managing the expectations of anyone who has a stake in the finished product.  Whether it is a direct supervisor collecting data for metrics reporting or another area of the company relying on the timely finish of the plan, ensure that new dates are well-known.  The documentation from issue recognition can serve as the rationale behind the decision and keep all important parties aligned as the project moves forward.

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