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Command and Control (For Contingencies) - How to Take Your Project Management to the Next Level

By April Resnick

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The project management process often focuses on the granular details of achieving projected goals on time and on budget – but take a step back and look at the big picture: how much can you really control your project outcomes?

Most project managers begin each new project with their preferred method of ensuring comprehensive visibility into all elements of the project, including important details like dependencies, accountabilities, metrics and risks. All of these elements are then neatly tucked into a project management plan to facilitate regular monitoring of metrics once the project launches.

But unexpected variables always crop up - sometimes immediately. When schedule slippage and scope creep enter the picture, "control freak" PMs tend to cling to their carefully constructed plan to maintain a sense of control. But all of that preparation and planning was designed to address new challenges and ward off potential issues, right?

Maybe. That Gantt chart may look flawless, but the best project managers are those who can constantly adapt to changing circumstances and maintain control of these three critical factors:

1. Continuous Risk Management

Standard project management practices dictate identifying risks and their corresponding mitigation techniques using a risk register. Off the record, many PMs can describe the experience of spending an inordinate amount of time defining and categorizing risks during project inception to build a risk register, and then giving a cursory glance over the static list a few times during the remainder of the project.

At best, this practice helps a project team think through risks and how to address them at the beginning of the project (which can come in handy should those exact risks occur) - at worst, having this "dead" document in the project file can give a team a false sense of security that all possible risks have been identified and taken care of already.

Instead of leaving the risk register behind, try ranking each risk according to Likelihood and severity. Once you have a sense of priority, start at the top and examine each risk as if it were a carefully scoped project - you may discover how many other risks (and opportunities) lie just beneath the surface. Frequently revisiting risks and conducting deep analyses of those risks with the highest probability of occurring not only improves your risk management, but also opens up new opportunities for adding value to your project.

2. Strategic Issue Escalation

The second factor determining your success in project management control is how critical issues or bottlenecks are handled by the Project Manager. All too often, when a project stalls over a critical issue, team members hunker down and wait for the problem to be solved by someone else. To prevent this stalemate, you can put decision-making tools in place to enable your team to identify and address minor issues before they get out of hand, allowing only the major problems that actually require escalation to filter up.

Ensure that critical issues or problems that do merit escalation in a project are directed to the right leader at the right time. If you don’t have one already, create a project management plan that outlines a clear process and procedure for escalating issues to the appropriate leadership before they tie up your entire project.

3. Transparent Delegation Of Responsibility

Of these three project management control factors, transparency of roles and responsibilities is by far the most important. In order to achieve success for your project, everyone on the team must have a clear understanding of who is supposed to be doing what.

For every new project, the PM must confirm that each task is assigned to an owner who is accountable for the successful completion of the task (whether that person is responsible for actually carrying out the work or not). A RACI chart is a simple and valuable tool that you can use as part of a team or one-on-one exercise to clarify roles and responsibilities.

Successful project management control can't rely solely on impressive tools and well-thought out metrics. True control ends up being both an art and a science - the best project managers are adaptable, resilient, and can build and maintain a team that trusts one another to produce outstanding results.

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