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Preparing Successful Project Management Plans


We’ve all seen crime shows where we anxiously await the results of the post-mortem. The coroner comes out after some time with a grim look on his face. He now knows the answer to what killed the person that just had the autopsy conducted…and it was murder!

Of course, it’s too late for the chap that just had the autopsy conducted. He’s already dead. But, it does give the investigators some type of clues to go on that will hopefully prevent someone else from being killed the same way in the future.

It’s similar with the projects we manage. We’re all familiar with conducting a post-mortem review or Lessons Learned session at the end of a project. This is where we review what went right and what went wrong with the project management plan.

The only problem with this approach is that the patient may have already died. Whatever went wrong on this particular project may have ultimately caused that project to expire and lay on the desk as a lifeless corpse. Future projects can certainly benefit from the lessons learned,  yet unfortunately a perfectly good project had to be sacrificed to arrive at this information.

Why not try something different with your next project management plan document? Try a software project management plan pre-mortem. Sit down at the beginning of the project and pretend as if the project you are about to undertake was an abysmal failure. Come up with all of the reasons why it failed so miserably.

Ask “what is a project management plan that ends in catastrophe?” Then, have everyone review the reasons why they felt as if the project died. This will give you a fresh perspective you can use to shore up the project management plan to prevent these things from happening.

This may sound a lot like risk management process. Conducting a pre-mortem is really risk management program on steroids. A pre-mortem assumes that the absolutely worst thing that could ever happen to your project management plan did occur. You then back into the rest of the plan to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

Could You Be Murdering Your Own Project Management Plan?

Some may have unwittingly taken the pre-mortem concept too far is this your risk management and project management plan?and turned it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. They go down the path of all the reasons that their project management plan won’t work. They may even say “what is a project management plan good for anyway?”

The team, and even the project manager, may buy into these reasons and this results in the project not getting a fair chance. The project comes upon an untimely death.

Here’s an example of how this plays out…

The salesperson is chomping at the bit to tell his good news at the Monday morning Sales meeting. You’ve been invited to attend this meeting as a representative of the PMO so you know what is potentially coming down the funnel.

The salesperson is stoked. He recounts his exploits of reeling in the “big one” and how this is going to be a “game changer” for the company. High-fives and backslaps ensue as a collective hoo-rah is uttered.

Everyone is thrilled. Everyone, that is, except you. It’s not that you don’t like to hear good news. It’s just that you’ve been here before. You know how this story ends…

Salesperson comes back with project. Project is a game-changer. Unrealistic commitments have been made. Project is way more complicated than originally thought. Project begins to die on the vine. Project dies. You’ve just conducted your own pre-mortem on this project management plan and sentenced it to death!

Reasons Why You May Be Murdering Your Own Project Management Plan

Why do good project managers do this to themselves? They’ve been down this road before and realize that:

  • There’s Not Enough Time: The salesperson committed to an unreasonable Project Manager freaking out over risk management and project mangement plan timeline in order to get the sale. You realize that it’s physically impossible to cram this much work into the project management plan within the allotted time frame.You’ve talked to this salesperson about this time and again, but he just can’t seem to break this nasty habit. He has a hard time understanding what a project management plan is in the first place, let alone sticking to one.
  • It Needs Functionality That Doesn’t Exist Yet: The sale was contingent upon changes being made to the software your company produces in order to accommodate the client’s needs. This functionality was in the product road map, but not for any time in the near future.You know that this will require an act of Congress to move these features up and reprioritize other important aspects of the software.
  • The Client Probably Won’t Be Cooperative: You also know that client’s who demand a lot up front are going to be that way throughout the rest of the project. They never keep up with their deliverables or commitments in the project management plan. But, they expect your company to not miss a beat.

All of the above reasons may leave a bad taste in the mouth of a battle-scarred project manager. They know how much precious time this has the potential of consuming. They get frustrated with the fact that nothing changes from the last time. Plus, it pulls them away from other project management plans that are doing well for the company.

The project manager may subconsciously try to kill a potentially good project in order to not have to deal with the above issues.

What Can You Do to Keep Your Project Management Plan Alive?

Granted, the above issues can be frustrating to a project manager who has been around for some time. There are things that can be done to increase the odds of your project management plan succeeding.

  • Change Your Attitude: Attitude plays a large part in making change your attitude towards creating a project management planyour project management plan a success. Think back to the time that you first started with your company. Ridiculously complex challenges were laid out in front of you.Things were most likely not very different now than they were then. You attacked these challenges with vim and vigor. Were you successful all the time? No. Were you successful 80% – 90% of the time? Yes, and that’s pretty good.Get back into that mindset and you’ll find yourself looking at your project management plan in a new and different way.
  • Get Involved Sooner: One thing you can do to help keep your project management plan patient alive is to get involved sooner in the Sales process.There are a number of stages to the sales process. You don’t want to get involved too early because you’ll find this is a waste of your time. You don’t want to get involved too late because you’ll find that key decisions have already been made. You do want to get involved at just the right time.When is this? When scope and timelines are being discussed.You don’t necessarily need to worry yourself with pricing since that is truly a sales function. However, you do want to be involved in the discussions that will impact resources and schedules.
  • Have Candid Conversations: Change the tone of your conversations with the people that are over-committing. Rather than say “I wish you wouldn’t do that all that time”, change it to “help me help you.” Let them know you understand and appreciate what they do for the company, but the two of you have to be in sync in order to make this work.These types of upfront, candid conversations will do wonders for your relationship and the sanity of your project management plan.

Try a project management plan pre-mortem on your next project. Identify all those things that could go wrong that would result in the demise of your project. Shore up your project management plan to prevent these things from happening.

Remember, don’t fall victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy and murder your own project. Preempt anything negative that could happen with your project and both you and your project can live a long and prosperous life!

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