Project Practitioners > Do you want to be a Project Ninja?

Do you want to be a Project Ninja?

By Margaret de Haan

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

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

I love this take on our work, Margaret. :) I couldn't agree more: there's much more to projects than Project!

Margaret, this is great! I've been trying to join your Ninja army without even realising it!

Thank you Margaret so much Margaret! I couldn't agree with you more. I have actually been using the method you describe above for one of my projects and it is working beautifully. Team members don't care about Project and all of confusing graphics that don't mean anything to them. Focusing on the tasks that were completed the previous week is a great opportunity to also acknowledge those team members who exhibited exceptional creative methodoliges to get a task completed on time. Typically that results in motivating the rest of the team members to get that "honorable mention" in our subsequent status meetings. Teams care more about communication, leadership, direction and guidance rather than all of the "back end" things that PMs do. I encourage others to try this approach!

I'm with you 100% on this Margaret. I completed the relaunch of an iconic UK retail brand a few weeks ago using a similar technique - focusing just on how we got on last week and what we've got to deliver this week.

Like you all meeting minutes were added to the Actions sheet in the RAID log which was shared with all stakeholders via Google.

I spent most of my time looking after the project rather than looking after Project and launched bang on schedule.

Glad to have a soul mate on this ;-)

I completely agree with you. In fact, I've been managing my projects this way for quite sometime. I normally get the tough projects because my superiors have full confidence that my team and I will complete the project successfully.

That being said, this approach should not be considered as a license to throw out the Project Plan.

Starting with a good plan is essential. How will we know when we have arrived at the finish line, if we didn't take the time to what needed to be done to get there?

I review and update my plan whenever I 'come up for air'. I use those moments to help me validate the teams focus. This step becomes even more important in faced paced environments- forgetting a detail is more likely to occur and the ill effects of are normally more far reaching. An excuse of 'I was too busy to look at the plan just wont cut it.

Bravo Margaret. Great article. You said it wonderfully. There are too many corporations that implemented micromanagement within projects.I see it al the time.

Geoff, thanks for the "army" comment, my coworkers have loved that one! But you're right, to make changes takes an army!

Thanks so much for all of the positive feedback on this, I appreciate others agreeing that I'm actually not "crazy" to try to bend the culture a bit. I find it incredibly difficult to navigate the idea that the MS Project Plan is the "do all" and "end all" and that the world revolves around the tasks in it. There is so much more skills that great Project Managers have, I hope that this article helps non-PM's to get a bit of a different perspective.

If I have skilled sub-team leads, I often adapt corporate methods to the sub-team leaders' style. Iuse the level of detail needed to communicate the schedule and have used Visio (both its GANTT and its charting) to maintain 'high level' dependency charts. MS Project is a useful tool for certain teams or leaders and it's certainly more user friendly than is a major scheduling software package. So exporting into MSP can be the way to go.

Like your approach that is loosely based on the Last Planner principles. We always report on 3 time periods - last period performance actual vs planned; next period regarding milestones due and catchup, if any; 3rd period about milestones to come - to let people know to get ready and get pre-requisites sorted and to ask assistance well in advanced!

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