How To Make Project Problems Disappear
Who doesn’t love a good magic show? The magician comes out in his cape and hat and prances across the stage. Every move of his lovely assistants is perfectly choreographed. There is glitter and glamour throughout the entire show as the Tiger in the cage is wheeled out for everyone to see.
More prancing and showmanship by the magician as a cloth is lowered over the tiger’s cage. A couple of words are uttered, a wand is waved to and fro, and a huge puff of smoke appears. The cloth is raised and voila…no tiger! Now you see you it, now you don’t. How do they pull off such an amazing trick?
Did you know that you need to be a magician when it comes to completing your projects successfully? You won’t have the same glitz, glammer, lovely assistants and caged tigers, but you will need some pretty good skills to make those areas that pose problems for a project disappear.
After all, what is a project plan without a magician? The following are some of the problem areas that you are responsible for making disappear as a project manager.
Keep Risks at Bay
The first disappearing act is an elusive one. This falls into the category of risks. Risks are those events or items that have the potential for creating issues and problems on your project but they have not yet occurred.
Why is it elusive? Because people don’t actually SEE risks until after they have occurred and turned into an ISSUE. It’s your job at this point to prevent ISSUES from appearing. You need to keep risks as invisible as possible (although you will have to write them down somewhere, like in your risk management software). Here are three ways you can do this:
1. Identify Risks
During the development of the project plan you need to identify those items that could potentially cause problems in the future. Do you have enough resources? Are there other projects that could conflict with this one? Are there any technological issues that could slow this project down?
Pull a complete list of these potential issues together and make them as apparent and visible as possible for everyone to see and discuss.
2. Get Ahead of the Risks
Now that everyone can see the list of Risks that you and your team have compiled, it’s a great opportunity to talk about them. Make them as visible and as real for everyone to understand that these things could really happen. Ask questions about what should be done if this Risk is indeed realized and turns into an issue. Your risk mitigation strategy can then be developed from these conversations.
What is a project plan without some risk mitigation strategy? A disaster waiting to happen. You should also focus on the likelihood of such a risk turning into an issue as well as the impact that this would have on the project.
3. Prevent the Risks from Ever Appearing
This part of the disappearing act is to prevent these risks from ever raising their ugly heads. On a regular basis (at least weekly) monitor these risks and make sure there is nothing changing that could cause them to suddenly break out of their cage and introduce mayhem to your project and stakeholders.
This is a tough area in which to work because you’ll probably never get much credit for preventing something from happening. There’s no guarantee that a risk would have, or would have not occurred. But, you know that you played your part of the magician when it comes to them never appearing at all.
Make Issues Disappear
Here’s where you can start to shine as a magician / project manager. Unfortunately, one of the Risks that you were holding at bay slipped through the cracks and came to fruition. You now have a full-blown Issue on your hands.
This is very different to a Risk. Now everybody can see this Issue. It’s a huge pimple that your Client, Boss, Peers and Stakeholders can see every single day.
Maybe the date of the project slipped because of a network issue. Or, maybe there was a miss when it came to functionality that should have been included in the project. Whatever the case, this Issue is real and larger than life.
The following are three steps to make sure you can get rid of any issues quickly.
- Get the Right People Involved – Don’t mess around with gradual escalations or filling out reports and paperwork to cover your backside. Something has gone wrong, the tiger is out of the cage and you need to call in the big guns to get him back into the cage. Get the right people involved from Day 1 who can truly affect change and make the Issue go away. This may be somewhere higher up in management. This may be someone that you don’t necessarily want to get involved due to the visibility and inspection that may ensue, but it is the best person nonetheless.
- Attack the Issue Aggressively – Now that the right people are involved, it should be your focus each and every day to aggressively make the issue disappear. What is a project plan without some extra time built in for issue resolution? It’s one that’s sure to get behind. You can almost be guaranteed that you will be presented with the “opportunity” to show your disappearing skills on every project. You’ll be glad you planned for it. Have a meeting first thing in the morning to address the issues and then touch base throughout the day. You should have all-hands-on-deck until the issue disappears.
- Learn from this Issue – After everything has elegantly disappeared, take some time to reflect on what went wrong and how it was resolved. Why did that risk turn into an issue? Is there something that could have prevented that from happening? What can be applied in future projects and planning in order to prevent this from happening again?
The answers to these questions are perfect for your Lessons Learned document that you pull together at the end of every project. Maybe sure that these lessons learned are then applied to the subsequent projects that you are responsible for managing.
Make Ambiguity Vanish
Ambiguity is the death knell of any project. You don’t want this grim reaper to start knocking at the door of your project plan because only one thing can result…Trouble. You know ambiguity is present when you see symptoms such as confusion, people bumping into each other, duplicate work occurring and resources not understanding what their job is or even what the next step is to complete the project.
How can you make ambiguity disappear on your projects? Take time to make sure everyone is on the same page. Make sure there is a clear and visible path to the end goal. Even if there’s not a path that is readily apparent because it may not have been entirely figured out yet, make sure people on your team know where they can go to find the answer. By putting some of these measures in place you can make ambiguity on your project disappear and replace it with clarity.
Now you see it, now you don’t. While a magician may use sleight of hand when it comes to making things disappear, you can use skills, experience, and insight to make problem areas disappear on your project. By keeping risks at bay, making issues go away and removing ambiguity you will soon be in a position to prevent YOURSELF from disappearing as a project manager!
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