Project Practitioners > There Will Be SOME Form of Execution

There Will Be SOME Form of Execution

By Matt Glei

As a project manager for the last 30 years or so, I've seen many projects go off-track. In the real world, almost every project is challenged at one point or another, and this is usually due to one of a very few reasons. I will enumerate and discuss the most common I've observed.

Inadequate planning detail or buy-in

Most projects have components that have not been done before or at least not been done by the specific project team. This means that the project planning cannot be based on history or the team's experience. These components need to be planned and evaluated, knowing that the solution is not known, or known by this team. One way to help ensure more thorough planning is to involve an expert who has accomplished this type or scope of solution before. You may have to go outside the team, or even the company to find that experience, but it often pays off in uncovering new challenges and risks, leading to an executable plan.

Another, often fatal, flaw is to do the project planning and scheduling without involving some of the key project resources in the process. When planning is treated as a bureaucratic process that you want to keep your team away from, the plans are essentially useless. There is nothing worse than to lock and load a plan and then have your assigned team not believe that the schedule (out of the box) is achievable.

Inadequate execution of the staffing plan

Even when plans have been done in detail by an experienced team, executing to the staffing plan often falls short. Either it takes longer to find, screen, interview, make an offer and get the person on-board, OR you lose a team member unexpectedly. Sometimes, management withholds hire approval even though they have "approved" the project plan. The experienced PM should use conservative estimates for acquiring new staff and also must evaluate the possibility of losing a key staff member and how to prepare for that if it does occur.

Inadequate risk management

In my experience, few organizations do a thorough job of evaluating project risks and have mitigation and contingency plans in place. The formal PMI-style of risk management can really make the project team and management team aware of basic assumptions and the risks inherent in the particular project plan.

Inadequate management understanding and support

Many organizations are not project-based or -oriented. This means that top management is not experienced in project management and may not even "speak the language" of project management. When these managers hear the PM’s statements, they may make big assumptions about exactly what is being promised and what the risks are. They may not know enough about PM to ask the most-useful questions:

1. What are the key technical risks and what are you doing to retire them?

2. How aggressive is the staffing plan and how do you plan to execute to it?

3. Have you identified frequent, measurable milestones so you can track progress?

4. What can go wrong and do you have mitigation / contingency plans in place (with triggers)?

5. Does the team buy into the plan?

At one company I worked for, the management team initially demanded the most aggressive possible schedule, and once a date was given, any deviation, regardless of cause, was considered a failure. The General Manager was fond of saying "there will be some form of execution." This all based on a few days of planning, often without the team available to assist.

Ultimately we forced more thorough planning before a date was given and they came to realize that we were able to execute to a properly planned schedule that was backed up by deep risk planning. Our record of performance improved greatly. By the time the management team matured, we PMs were forced to convince them that the project could be done on the schedule presented, so instead of cutting the schedule they wanted to add to the schedule to make sure we could get it done on plan.

Will wonders ever cease?

-- Matt Glei, PMP,

Related Links
A thorough risk analysis and mitigation plan is easier with this collection of formats, which walk you through everything from potential staffing issues to market competition and technology problems. An accurate project schedule begins with accurate task estimates. This guideline provides an overview of several different methods. (They all include having actual team participation.) Keep management up-to-date on project progress with our Executive Summary of Project Status and Risks, which keeps it all on one page—all you're likely to get them to read.

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