Thursday, July 14, 2005

Contingency Planning

Contingency Planning is like getting enough exercise and eating right. Most of us know we should do it; most of us don't do enough of it. I recently had an experience that reminded us the truth in the old proverb about the best laid plans of men and mice. We moved across the USA. In 2005 this should not be an adventure. We are good project managers. We created a realistic plan. We picked (or appeared to) a good team. We communicated the plan to the team and got agreement. We setup monitoring metrics and worked out a tracking/status reporting system...

Luckily we also setup contingency plans. We did it tongue in cheek. We did not believe people like us would need contingency plans. Contigency plans are for poor plans. We are not mediocre planners, we are excellent planners. Our plans were realistic, bought-in, well staffed, properly monitored. Well bucko we learned a valuable lesson. Our excellent plan failed quickly. Two very different critical partners failed and could not deliver on time. We had to scramble to quickly replace them. Some of the delayed tasks almost impacted the critical path and could have caused significant financial issues.

We were again reminded of two verities about project management. Whether you have a success or a disaster depends on the quality of your people, especially your leadership. Pay attention to your contingency plans, they may save your ass.

Well the story has an happy ending. We learned some critical lessons and our critical path was not impacted. There was a lot of inconvenience, some anxious days and many many phone calls. But we also learnt some great things about our support organization, while we would not want to go through this experience again, we walked away much more confident in our capabilities as project managers.

The take home value:

* Investing in developing good contingency plans is very important
* Once you have developed your contingency plans make sure they are well understoond and bought-in. Every one involved needs to know when they will be invoked and what they will be called to do.

When a contingency plan is invoked it means that there is going to be pain, but done correctly it should be much less pain compared to a project failure.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

What is a project?

Before we get too far with our discussions about project management we need to come to a common useful definition of a project. A quick Google search for the definition of the word project brought back a number of useful definitions and some interesting ones...

  • a planned undertaking from
  • A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. Temporary means that the project has an end date. Unique means that the project's end result is different than the results of other functions of the organization. From {EDITOR'S NOTE: What a wonderful definition}
  • A complex assignment involving more than one type of activity and production. Projects can take a variety of forms, some examples are a mural construction, a shared service project, or other collaborative or individual effort. From
  • A structured undertaking (often involving considerable money, personnel and equipment) of limited duration that is developed through various bureaucratic, analytical, and approval processes in order to achieve a tangible objective (eg, a school construction project, an adult literacy project). A project should be considered as one of several types of activities that contribute to a given result or set of results. (See Activity.)

Look at the wonderful range of definitions and also the number of different organizations that have felt the need to document a definition.

Almost every university teaches something about surprise. It appears in an encyclopedia...big duh! But check it out people in the Cathedral building business are talking about it. So is the US Government. There were definitions from public schools, service organizations, state governments. This is important stuff...check it out.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Good evening. I have started this blog to begin a discussion regarding project management. Specifically project management on the large scale.

Project Management is important not just because every one does it all the time. It is important because when done well it adds a lot of value to people, organizations, society and mankind. Done poorly it provides interesting news headlines.

So what makes Project Management hard? After all every one does it. Just like that other thing every one does. Moms do it. Dads do it too...but only grudgingly. Business people do it. Bosses do it and so do the subordinates. Hospitals do it. Churches do it. Insurance companies do it. Manufacturing companies do it. Hollywood does it. Politicians are masters at it. They get a lot of practice doing it.

However who can remember a large (multi - million, disciplinary, year, system) project that came in on budget and on schedule. How about two in a row?