As 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.
Let’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.
The stakes are high: according to a 2007 PMI study, 28% of projects fail due to poor communication—the single most common cause. Data hoarding, ill-defined communication expectations, and sheer inertia all conspire against open communication channels. But if you hammer the communication basics, you’re contributing a vital ingredient to project success.
If you want to encourage communication, practice it yourself.
Lay out realistic channels, with your audience in mind . How well have you communicated with your team today/this week/month? Right-size your communications: don’t use the communications structure required for a shuttle mission for your migration to SharePoint 2010. Keep your stakeholders’ risk tolerance levels in mind. Lack of communication almost always aggravates risk.
Focus on available tools.
There’s a reason that Microsoft Excel is the world’s most popular software for documenting and managing project plans: it’s everywhere, and most everyone knows how to use it. Check your organization first for communication standards, and then broaden your search for communication formats and procedures that make sense for your project. Why reinvent the wheel? And, PMBOK provides a complete (at times excruciatingly so) roadmap for effective communications.
Find an appropriate cadence for communicating project information.
When do the c-level offices prefer their briefings? How much hand-tooling, and how much broadcasting, does your corporate culture want in its messaging? Build team consensus on how much documentation of communication is required.
Establish who communicates which information, and to whom.
Better internal communication propagates beyond your project, first to sponsors and external stakeholders, and then throughout your organization. A Role Report Matrix is a handy way to define responsibilities for communication to project stakeholders and media outlets.
Imposed solutions are often ignored/rebelled against.
Be willing to change communication methods midstream as your team gains traction, and management articulates or changes preferences. You could try inferring the right amount of touch for each audience. Better yet, ask.
Adherence to PMBOK principles adds to project clarity.
Staples like the project Org Chart, Risk Register, and Gantt should be public touchstones. And, don’t forget Lessons Learned as a function of effective communication. Both you and your organization will be smarter for future projects.
Lee J. Tarricone, PMP, is a project management consultant with BCforward. He currently manages projects for business process enhancement and web search optimization.
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