Do you want to be a Project Ninja?
I have been reviewing many Job Descriptions that are out there for Project Managers, and I realized the other day that if I was really graded solely on what was written in mine, I would really be failing in the eyes of the company. We are so much more than tasks, dates and Project Plans aren’t we?
In many ways I am very lucky, the VP that I report to and I, see many things the same way and are more flexible in terms of allowing team members to bend the rules and do what makes sense, than to follow rigid protocols. Based on our environment which is incredibly fast paced with priorities changing so fast most people would get whiplash, it’s the only way to keep all of the balls in the air. For that very reason it has been very hard for us to find the right individuals with the blended skill set of Business Analysis and Project Management that we need in our department to be successful. The first time anyone hears “that’s not my job”, you’re sunk in my world.
Now with that epiphany came some insight into how I can improve on the way that I, and my other PM’s, are seen. There are a lot of new people coming into the organization that are used to a much slower, structured Project Management environment, and I have been asked a lot more lately about my Project “Plan” (Project WBS) and schedule, and if there have been any slips. Where I live, there are no 8 hour days, so to me many of these things are lower on the priority list than actually touching base with the team members to find out what obstacles I have to remove from their environments so that they can get the work done, and battling for the tools we need. In truth, most weeks I only go into MS Project once, and just update the status of the tasks in there to make sure that the “I’s” are dotted, but if you asked me right now to see my Project WBS I can guarantee you I would need to work on it before you got it if you wanted it to be current to now. Is that wrong? I expect that lies within whomever is asking for’s expectation, but value is so much more than just the administration of paperwork. I see most of those things as a priority 3, where the P1’s are the meetings and conversations that we have that uncover the information that we need to define the solution to the problem we are trying to solve. My meeting minutes are not even minutes, they are a task list with assignments and due dates in the form of an email, and then I will check on progress throughout the week. As the Discipline of Project Management seems to be softening with the adoption of new styles of flexibility like Scrum, the need for rigid Project Plans decrease.
So I have a new plan on getting my point across to management. I am going to focus on the accomplishments of the prior week and communicate that to them. Will I still have a task list, sure, but it isn’t going to be the centerpiece of my Projects, it is going to be a tool for me to keep track of what has to be done, and not a lot else. Priorities change so often that managing a plan so detailed would be a detriment in my area, as the dates would continually shift and the administration of that would be horrendous and time consuming with little value. So I am going to live in the land of the status report and communicate at the milestone level. We work to meet dates that are critical, sometimes almost killing ourselves to make it (those dates that customers dictate to you that have no wiggle room on) and if I were trying to manage that through resource planning within MS Project, I would probably break the application!
So from now on, I’m going to be letting everyone know what we are accomplishing week to week which will include what is planned for the next one. I am going to keep my current MS Project files, but I am not going to use them as any indication of the health of the Project, or as any indication that dates have slipped. When asked about dates for specific tasks, I will let them know the week they will be delivered, and if it appears that a deliverable will slide I will let them know. I will let them know what is coming up and what is in progress, but I’m going to keep my Project Plans private from now on. I will manage them week to week and not let them manage me day by day. The deadlines we can’t miss we won’t but just because MS Project says that there is only a 5 day work week with 40 hours per resource doesn’t mean that we are going to be late, we typically have to reach pretty high when things go awry, and we do and succeed. If I used my Project Plan to manage dates, keeping it current would be more than a full time job.
So I’m going to break the rules and ignore my responsibilities as outlined in my job description, I will own the results of my Project and be successful the right way for my environment. As I have said in the past, one size does not fit all. I’m going to rename my title to “IT Project Ninja” and leave it at that. The way I see it, as long as we get the work done, why do something that doesn’t make sense and waste precious time? Let’s get more nimble in our thinking on how to use the tools we have in the best way for us, and increase our value to the organization by working on more things that actually facilitate getting the work done, rather than wasting time on administration that provides little value. Your project plan is for you, not for others and I believe it should be kept that way, higher level knowledge of the deliverables is more valuable to the masses anyway, and removes the opportunity to be micromanaged to a date in the plan, which is something I hate.
So who’s with me? Who else is brave enough to try to find a better way to do their jobs in their organization by stepping out of their comfort zone a bit, and changing the culture? I know I can’t be the only one that longs for us to be able to do what makes sense, and I am on the path of changing the way that Projects are managed in my organization, and show how people will be able to see progress in a bit of a different way.
Who’s with me? And what can you do to make some more sense in your work life? Are you also going to be a “Project Ninja?”
Margaret de Haan, PMP, CSM, MBA, Yellow Belt