The Spooky Side of Project Management

October 30, 2018 by FlexPro

This month, I noticed that one of the cable channels was running a horror movie each day leading up to Halloween and, in the theater, there’s a sequel of the classic movie “Halloween” starring Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s that time of year where people like to be scared. Haunted houses, hayrides and creepy costumes are all just part of the fun of the season.

As project managers we can also encounter our share of scary situations. No matter how many contingencies have been built into a project, things can go ghastly wrong quickly and unexpectedly. Deadlines at risk of being missed, budgets blown, and personnel or client issues can all create nightmarish situations at critical times. I recently heard a frightful story from a PM whose client mid way through, completely changed the scope of the project, and still expected the team to make the original deadline. It’s a harrowing tale and I’m anxiously waiting to hear the outcome.

While half the fun of a Halloween haunted house is the suspense of not knowing what lies around every corner, there is nothing fun in project management about the unknown. As a PM I like to always prepare for the worst, the shocking and the alarming. Get your ghoul on and consider some of these time honored solutions to your spooky project issues:

Situation 1:  Team Members pretend everything is fine when, in reality, the project is failing.

Solution: Leave time in your meeting agenda to encourage open dialogue in a safe environment. Consider holding a dedicated risk assessment session and go around the room allowing each team member to add to the risks. Don’t just wait for the most vocal to contribute. And don’t ignore the silence. It often means something is being held back.

Situation 2: The project sponsor doesn’t believe the completion date you’ve arrived at with your team.

Solution: Nothing is more effective that actual data. Show the sponsor the detailed timeline and how the individual tasks add up to the completion date. Then work together with the team to decide what tasks can be removed or perhaps done in parallel even if it involves some risk.

Situation 3:  The project scope is expanding well beyond the original agreement.

Solution:  It’s not unusual for management to try to add new elements to a project that’s already in progress. If this happens, pull out the Project Charter you completed at the start of the project. Remind managers what was agreed upon as “in scope” and “out of scope”. If there is continued pushback, bring in the project sponsor who has the ultimate authority to bring everyone back to the original intent and business case for the project. This is why it’s critically important to get early agreement on scope in a written Project Charter.

Save the blood curdling screams for Halloween and not your project team meetings. Remember, as much as being in control is part of project management, rarely a day goes by where everything will go according plan and it’s how you react to those situations that will make or break the rest of the project. Don’t let what’s hiding around the corner distract you, you’ve got this.

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