There are many resources, opinions, and guides that will help you plan and manage your projects. There are many debates about agile versus waterfall methodologies. Some argue that one is better than the other. To learn the best techniques and principles, you can attend training.
Many people in Project Management start their careers seeking to learn the “right” way of planning and running projects. We learn how calculate the critical path. We will learn how to create a work breakdown structure. We will learn how to gather requirements, manage stakeholder matrices and quantify risks.
These tools allow us to approach projects with a clear framework that guides us through the phases of a project, if we’re in Camp Waterfall or through sprints if we’re in Camp Agile.
We all face a time or two where our project doesn’t go as planned. We find ourselves having to adapt, regardless of how strict we are with our templates and methodologies. This is where we learn to appreciate flexibility. We start to plan buffer time into our schedules. We begin to identify risks and contingencies that have caused us anxiety in the past.
Although we learn that not every project will follow our perfect plan, we also appreciate the importance of creating a plan and then being flexible. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The plan, but not the planning, is everything.” This is the first step in becoming a Project Management professional.
The next step may be a big one. First, it is important to realize that not all methods are the best. Sometimes, the most efficient and thorough method won’t work for you. These reasons are not covered in any project management manual. Let me share a real-life example.
I was just starting a new job and was assigned to a high-stakes project. Knowing the potential consequences of a project failure, I was more focused on risk management than I would have been on other projects.
This company didn’t have project management tools so I created a risk calculator in Excel. I had enough space to identify and define risks, to determine their impacts, and to detail the mitigation plan to reduce the risk.
I created a calculator with axes to measure Impact and Probability. I also defined criteria for high/medium/low and assigned a numerical value to an assessment of high/medium/low. I also created a composite score calculation based upon the Impact and Probability ratings. This allowed us to objectively rank, assess and discuss each risk according to its severity. To facilitate the discussion, I added conditional formatting.
I set aside time to meet with the right stakeholders in order to start risk identification and assessments. I imagined a brainstorming session similar to the ones I had at my previous companies. It wasn’t what I expected. There was immediate resistance to the whole exercise and to even using the word “risk”. I didn’t realize how starkly different cultures can exist within companies.
This company valued collaboration and was very wary of conflict. I was terrified of the process and the barriers that came with the risk management document I created. Negativity was the result of focusing on risks. It felt like confrontation if a risk involved people.
My initial reaction was to be disappointed. Project Management is a standard industry term for the word “risk”. Project management is dependent on risk identification, assessment, as well as management. I wanted to encourage the team to use my tool, but it would not only be ineffective but also alienate them. I used the feedback from the session to make another attempt. I still had to identify risks.