Third Cardinal Sin of Project Management

This is the third (what was your first clue) in an oft-interrupted series of articles on project management.

(The first cardinal sin is starting before you’re ready. The second cardinal sin is doing the right things at the wrong time.)

It’s a truism in military matters that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Well, almost no plan. It should also be a truism in project management that no plan survives contact with reality.

Reality is hard. It has sharp edges. It comes fast. From above you, or behind. It comes when you least expect it. It will mangle your plan – and mangle you – unless you’re prepared.

As you manage and run a project, you need to have a continuous grasp of what is happening in all aspects of the plan. Not at the micro level – you’ll be overwhelmed. But certainly at the macro level, and in many cases much deeper than that.

Generals and military historians call this grip. It’s having your fingers on all the strings – knowing what’s going on in all areas of the project.

You know you have grip when you can answer questions without referring to your notes. If you have to look up an email to answer a quick question about a vital part of your project, you don’t have grip. If your answer is “I’ll get back to you on that” when your boss wonders what’s happening with the production facilities for Newfangled Widget Number 9, no grip.

Grip means that you’re closely in touch with co-workers and associates who have roles to play in the successful completion of your project. Grip means that you are collecting and analyzing at least some metrics about the progress of your project. And grip means that you are maintaining a fairly detailed situational awareness of every major aspect of your project – even (or especially) those that you’ve entrusted to others.

Losing grip is the the third cardinal error of project management, and losing grip means that you are in danger of losing your grip, which has entirely different (and not at all positive) connotations.

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In the spirit of Guy Kawasaki’s blog motto (“Blogger. n. Someone with nothing to say writing for someone with nothing to do”) I should add the following …

I am the ultimate expert on project management since I’ve managed well over 3524 projects, all wildly successful, on time, under budget, and above minimum spec.

Yeah right!

Realistically, I’ve had my share of setbacks. Real boats rock.

Hopefully, I’ve learned from my failures, as well as my successes. That’s all that anyone can ask of you, too.