Improper Planning – The Skeleton in the Closet

Planning shortfalls will always come back to haunt you!

Planning shortfalls will always come back to haunt you!

I had a long talk last week with a guy we will call Joe. He works for a company who has undertaken a large data conversion project. Mid way through that project the sponsors became very concerned about the project’s status. Reports indicate the project is on track, but for some reason uncertainty prevails. They asked Joe to find someone to oversee the project, even though the project has a small team of project managers.

Without further information, this appears to be a classic project management issue. PMI (Project Management Institute) establishes a strict set of expectations on project managers in regard to project performance calculations and reporting. If the performance is being calculated against the project baselines correctly, there should be little doubt as to the project’s current status. If the numbers are correct, then there is a stakeholder management problem; specifically in regard to stakeholder communication. In either case the project managers appear to be falling short. Having managed a number of projects myself, I am hesitant to be critical but ultimately all project problems must lead back to the project manager.

To gain a quick overview of the project and discover where stakeholder communication has broken down I recommend the following:

1. Review the project charter to gain an understanding of the business case driving the project.

2. Review the project plan (focusing on performance monitoring and controlling, stakeholder communications, risk and issues management)

3. Review the project schedule and cost baselines focusing on the schedule and cost performance indexes.

4. Review the risk register and issues log.

5. Review the current deliverables ensuring they meet quality standards as defined in the quality management plan.

6. Review the change request log and pending change requests.

After the initial project review, I would keep my eye on the these and possibly other items ensuring stakeholders are informed as agreed in the stakeholder management plan. If none of this information is available, then we would have discovered the reason for stakeholder concern. The project was not planned properly using PMI standards. In this case a project management recovery plan would have to be created and enforced. That plan would involve creating the items indicated above and possibly others. This would create a minimum set of tools for managing and reporting against agreed project baselines. I realize some would recommend stopping the project until a set of standard project management plans are in place, however in this case the stakeholders would never agree to a project stop. Making up for planning shortfalls will now have to be done on the fly.

There are reasons PMI places a strong emphasis on creating all those pesky management plans during the planning process group. If the project manager does not plan ahead, it will show as pressure is applied to the project. There are no perfect solutions, plans or principles, but one thing is certain time spent in planning a project properly is never time ill spent.

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