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Project managers vs zombiesAs Project Managers using Critical Chain, we may find ourselves focusing on what’s eating our buffer.  We know that there’s a task out there nibbling away at this contingency timeline and we want to find it, address it, and move forward with confidence.  And the question of buffer consumption is something that can eat us until we figure it out.

So what’s eating you?  Reading recent headlines, one can truly hope that the answer to that question is something project-related and not a zombie!

If you’re old enough or just have an appreciation for 60’s music, you would know “The Zombies” for their hit songs “Time of the Season” or “She’s Not There”.  Or perhaps you recall the 1968 movie “Night of the Living Dead” and how it captured the imagination of the day.  But in recent years, zombies increasingly have lurched their way into pop culture through movies, video games, and cable TV.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen horrifying headlines and videos about face, heart, and brain-eating “zombies” in our midst.  While these actual events are tragic for their own reasons, maybe there are some things we can take from these stories.

In a move to stress preparedness and capitalize on the interest in zombies, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted a blog entry, “Preparedness 101:  Zombie Apocalypse” (May 2011).  It’s a serious article, although a bit tongue-in-decaying-cheek, written by the Assistant Surgeon General, Dr Ali Khan.  It addresses how citizens can prepare for a Zombie Apocalypse—should one actually occur.  The point of the post is that many of the preparations and precautions you might take against a Zombie Apocalypse would serve you well in the event of other more natural phenomenon such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc.

The CDC article parallels three phases of Project Management as defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI):  (1) Planning and Design, (2) Executing, and (3) Monitoring and Controlling.

project managers vs zombiesLet’s suspend disbelief for a moment and suppose that zombies are real.  You wake on Monday morning and switch on the local TV broadcast only to find that a zombie army has taken over major portions of the community in which you live.  Roads are blocked and the situation is worsening.  Your survival will depend, in part, on how well you have planned for this situation and how solid your design is.  You will need to recognize the issues and risks that the primary and potential secondary threats pose.  But planning and designing alone are not enough.  Imagine an archaeologist finding a set of blue prints in the Egyptian desert where there should be pyramids.  Sand is all there is for miles around because the plans were never executed.

And so executing the plan becomes the next key to survival.  You have your emergency food and supplies, extra fuel, money, important documents—and your pet chocolate Lab—loaded up in the back of your Kia Soul.  You back out of the driveway and know exactly which route you will take to escape the carnage.  You have your maps and GPS and are ready to go.  You head out of town, turn on your XM satellite radio, and listen for important news and updates as the local authorities work to monitor and control the situation.  And so you continue to monitor the situation as well.

Back to the real world:  Whether the recent spate of “zombie” attacks continues is anyone’s guess.  As for Critical Chain, we know that “eating buffer” is not necessarily a negative.  On the other hand, letting a project risk or issue eat you can be.  Plan.  Design.  Execute.  Then monitor and control.

In the end, don’t worry about what you cannot control—worrying changes nothing.  Don’t let it eat you.  And don’t worry about what you can control—control it.  The project’s survival may depend on it.

By D Robert Dunn, MBA, PMP, is a decorated Air Force veteran.  Robert began managing projects in 1995 shortly after leaving the military; He originally joined BCforward in September 2008.  Robert has lived in Indianapolis for the past 11 years along with his wife, Stephanie, and their five children.  In addition to blogging, Robert enjoys genealogy.

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