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Secrets to Successful Project Management – focus on the important things you can control

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

This is the second post of a new series of posts aimed at new project managers, or aspiring project managers. I share the secrets of successful project management.

If you can’t control something, you have little chance of influencing it.

Project Management requires us to manage many moving parts. It is a complex job. Our role as Project Managers is to manage and progress streams of work. In these streams, there are tasks. These tasks could be activities that are within our direct control – using our internal resources allocated to our project – and some of these tasks are performed by suppliers, customers or other co-workers outside of our project; these might be referred to as dependencies. And then there are activities that are not in our plan which could influence our project – external forces.

The secret to success is to focus on what we can control, and manage only the inputs and outputs of the things we can’t.

Completing tasks owned by the project has important benefits:

  1. It’s an effective use of our time and resources
  2. We won’t score points if we fight for things outside our control, but let the tasks we can control slip
  3. It maintains our confidence, and the confidence of our project team and stakeholders
  4. If there needs to be one, it creates a moral high-ground to camp out on

Am I just spouting the obvious?

You might think so, but years of experience have proven to me that the opposite happens all too often. I’ve seen PMs get into trouble when they try to manage outside of their influence and control:

  • It’s not an effective use of time
  • It diverts attention from other important issue
  • They attempt to manage situations without visibility of important information
  • They look like control-freaks
  • Their behavior can be interpreted as sending up a smoke-screen over issues within the project

Here’s how to deal with things outside of your control

The Project Management ‘tool’ for this is to make Assumptions and state Dependencies.

We make Assumptions when we require certain things to be true throughout the lifetime of the project, that are outside of our control.

For example, we might make the assumption that the marketing team will not embark on a promotion during our project.

We state Dependencies when we expect things to be true at specific times during our project, that are outside of our control.

For example, we might state that we require the marketing team to be ready with their promotion at the beginning of week 10 of our project.

In both cases, we must declare them, and to ensure they’re signed off, under a governance procedure. This covers your ass and places the responsibility in the laps of the right people.

We need satisfaction, to make our Project Plans work, that we can account for an external task outside of our direct control. We need to know that it will be done, what it will produce, when it will be done, what resources are needed and how much it will cost. But phrased as a question, we may get way too interested in the answers and try to manage things outside of our control.

Instead, we can state our Assumptions and Dependencies. Obviously, these need to be valid. So when we declare them, we must invite comment and discussion as a formal process. We may need to adjust and see how this impacts our plans, budgets, etc. If we agree, we must then get the owner of these tasks to take accountability for the task and to meet the conditions of our Assumptions and Dependencies. The sign-off must also include an agreement to inform you about any changes (arising issues) or potential changes (emerging risks) that potentially invalidate our Assumptions or Dependencies.

Make sense? Or disagree?

Give your view by leaving a comment or starting a discussion in the forums.

A Useful Video

I found this useful video that will help you with identifying Assumptions.

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This post is part 2 of 3 in the series Successful Project Management
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Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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