A business article I read recently maintained that CEOs and sales leaders, if they were being honest with themselves, would admit that their sales plan and targets for the following year were actually 10% preparation and 90% hope. And that "hope is a lousy sales strategy."
I would say that applies to managing projects as well. I doubt any of us have project plans that are 10% preparation and 90% hope; but I know plenty of projects where the hope part might be at least 30%, maybe more! As in:
"I hope we get the resources we asked for..."
"I hope that executive doesn't feature-creep this project to death like last time..."
"I hope the priorities don't change mid-stream..."
"I hope the customer doesn't change their minds..."
"I hope we've really got commitment from all the functional groups..."
"I hope that new technology really works..."
"I hope that hard-to-please user group like what we're creating..."
These hope items are typically things we've found to be challenging before. They are "real world effects." They are often items that involve either people or specific areas of unknown on the project. And we don't really have any control or authority over them.
But that's no reason to just "hope" [for the best]. One, active hoping implies that action is not even being considered. Two, hoping is at the top of the slippery slope down to victimhood, potentially a threat to team morale and energy on tough projects. "If we face all these issues, and it's all out of our control, what chance do we have of succeeding?" There's no room for that kind of energy suck!
So instead of just hoping, how can we proactively do something? How can we increase the probability of things going well, of getting what we need, and lower the probability that something bad will occur?
Guess what - this is really all about managing risks! Any item that's showing up as a hope statement? It's likely actually a "risk that could be actively managed." I just like the language of "looking for spoken or unspoken hopes" - it's a new way of framing it that could uncover things we were NOT thinking of as risks we could take action on; but instead were being passive about, thinking they're "just the way things are."
What if we take one of the hope statements above and try expressing it as a risk - how will that help? A strong risk statement includes Cause, Effect, and Impact, to help get everyone clear about what could happen and why and just how bad the impact could be on the project.
HOPE: "I hope that executive doesn't feature-creep this project to death like last time..."
RISK: "If the executive causes feature creep on this project like last time [the cause], we could miss our Development Complete and then Beta Ship milestones [the effect or event], resulting in blowing our contract commitment with Customer X for a beta-level machine by xx-xx-xx [overall project impact.]"
WELL. That puts a different spin on things :-). It's no longer about just hoping for the best on common scope-creeping behavior. The risk statement wakes me up to just how impactful this could become. Now I'm feeling a little more impetus to do something - to move from hoping to acting; and I also have a strong statement of impact if I need it to get support.
So how can I go from hope to action on this particular issue (i.e. plan some risk mitigation activities)? I can have extra conversations with the potential sources of the scope creep I'm worried about. I can make sure they attend the kickoff meeting to hear first-hand how critical certain commitment dates are. I can remind the core team members in every meeting of their responsibility to watch for scope creep sources in their department. I can make sure that project trade-off decisions are communicated and their rationale understood... There ARE things I can do!
That's just one example. For every item above, I can write a strong risk statement that gets me into an action mindset. A big point of this post, though, is how important it is to actually LOOK HARD for things we're just 'hoping' for because we somehow think there's nothing we can do.
If you do find yourself or team members expressing hopes about how your project goes, there's probably something you've left undone - opportunities for risk mitigation that haven't been recognized. To move to action, do the following:
1) What do you find yourself hoping for?
2) Restate the hope using risk language and get clear on the potential impact
3) Get creative with the team to identify actions you can take, to turn anticipated impactful trouble-spots into proactively-managed risks.
The great thing is that those risk mitigation opportunities are actually your source of unexpected power in the face of normal people issues or project uncertainty. And action will always be a much better response than hope.