Managing projects is not an easy, straightforward task. There are playbooks, but do they really apply to any given project? No. Do they provide a basic framework to follow? Yes, in many cases. But show me an inflexible project manager and I will show you one that will fail more often than succeed. Show me a project manager who is too flexible, and I will show you one who is possibly going to be manipulated by his team or customer and end up with a project that comes in late or over budget and is not deemed a success. There has to be a middle ground. I consider myself to be easy to work with and flexible enough to meet the client’s wants or needs, but I also know when too much is too much and it may be a train wreck.
Which brings me to the title of this article… accepting what you can’t change, but also changing what you can’t accept. What does that really mean?
The customer wants what they want
This is the accepting what you can’t change part. I had a project customer on a very technical project where the customer lead was the head of human resources. He didn’t want to see a project schedule or Gantt Chart or anything like that. He didn’t want to see a detailed project status report. He wanted an issues list – that’s it. And he was stubborn about it. So that’s what I gave him. It’s not how I managed the overall project and the project team, but it is exactly what we used to drive every project meeting and he was elated. In the end, we had a very successful project and our project sponsor never felt overloaded with the PM tool pieces and reporting structure that he didn’t understand and didn’t want to understand.
You must find out what the project is really about
This is changing what you can’t accept. The project client comes to your team with the project need – but it may really only be a symptom of the bigger project. Just like every time you’ve ever had a plumber work on something in your house like a leaky pipe or a mechanic work on your car… there’s always a little bit more to fix under the hood, right? I’m not saying they are dishonest – though yes some are – I’m saying they are the experts and need to get to the real root of the problem. And that’s where you and your project team come in as you go through requirements and design with the customer. Don’t just replace their accounts payable system when it’s their entire accounting system that is the problem. Of course, give them a choice as the price difference may be enormous, but approach it as a two step or five step process or five part project rather than just a band-aid quick fix.
Implementing what’s best for the project and customers
In the end, it’s about doing what is right and best for the project, the customer and their end users, if that is applicable. It’s also about aligning your projects as a whole – your entire portfolio of projects – with the overall organizational goals and mission. If it’s not something in your project portfolio management (PPM) scope, then you need to know to pass on it. Or prioritize it properly. Making sure your stakeholders achieve their goals is what a successful project is all about and what successful PPM is all about. And it will make a good customer come back to you for more projects. Try not to be just a “yes” man to whatever the project customer thinks he wants or needs. It’s the project manager and team who need to analyze and find the real solution to the issue.
My motto is: “You’re only as successful as your last customer thinks you are…”
Your project customer is expecting success at the end of the project and just accepting the project as it appears on the surface serves no one well. You have to change what you can’t accept – find out what the real issues are and present those back to the client – even if it means dreaded change orders.
What do you think of this approach? Has it been your experience that projects don’t come in neat, ready to fix boxes? I’m guessing the answer is yes.