My father was an architect, he designed buildings from the inside out, he realized that a building has to be functional first and aesthetically pleasing second. No matter how attractive a building, if it is not functional it will be demolished over time.
I know an architect who does not like to draw, when you meet with him to discuss an idea he never picks up a pencil to sketch it through. My father on the other hand used to draw everything to the finest detail, how one section of the building would link with another, where the coat hangers would be placed when you walked in the front door, even how large they would be and how they would be fixed to the wall. What surface the wall should be, so it could be cleaned easily. “The secret to a good design lies in the detail” he would say.
I know project managers that run their projects with only the very rudiments of a plan, like the architect who does not like to draw, they do not like to plan either. They think that whatever the problem that comes their way, one way or another it will be solved by someone (in the case of the architect, he mostly leaves it up to the builder). But when it comes to project management, someone needs to take control and to ultimately take the responsibility. And for me that is the project manager.
The secret of good planning is not to micro plan and micro control (if you do, you’ll kill creativity) but to detail enough so that you can think the project through, to foresee the issues before they appear, to calculate risks and thus to calculate budgets accurately.
In my case, I like to highlight potential issues and to ask my managers to find solutions for them, before they become a risk to either the timing, quality or budget of the project. I like to say things, in the planning stage, like ‘I have no idea how we will deliver this milestone when these tasks, according to my plan, are still only half complete’ – by handing over problems for comment or debate, early on, very creative solutions can most often be found.
It is the blend of pragmatism based on experience with the discipline of forward thinking that makes for successful and fun projects. Without this blend I find that projects tend to deteriorate into endless discussions on how best to solve all unforseen open issues waiting to be solved. Long issue lists are created and sap all they enthusiasm out of the project team – nothing but endless problems. And usually it is always the same brains left to solve the inherited mess.
I find that team members like to see a well thought through plan. I pin them on the office wall. Everyone can see what is going to happen and when and by whom. These plans help in themselves to create a sense of team and importance. People in the team like to study these plans and to try and find gaps and holes in them, adding their own expertise and comments – so much the better, this all goes a long way to foreseeing problems, way ahead of them ever becoming a serious risk. In this way the level of buy in is so much higher and a sense of team can be so much stronger. This is in contrary to many peoples thoughts, who believe that an ‘over planned’ project excludes the team members. This is only true if the project is ‘over planned’ (for example specifying the size of the hole for the wall fixing to fix the coat hook on, six months before building starts) and if the Project Manager, or Architect (in this story) does not share their plans openly with the team and encourage creative input and commitment to deliverables, quality and timing.
Anyone who has worked on one of my projects will know that I do not handover deadlines to my teams, I suggest them and ask for their commitment to them. If they find them unrealistic, we examine them closer, together, and come to an agreement. Thus my tasks become contracts between two agreeing parties. This process allows me to better assess if the person I am offering the task to has the skills and resources to handle it. But when they take a task on, heaven help them, if they then let me and the other teams down for no good reason.
So how do you run your projects? Are you really in control of them? Do you plan and share your plans, or are you more a freestyler, letting your projects take you to where they want to go?