We could write a long list of all the things I don’t know much about. If we were to create such a catalogue, then project management would be right up there at the top.
To be honest, in the early days of my career, although I’m sure someone somewhere was managing the projects of which I was a part, I remained blissfully ignorant (it’s one of the things I do best) as to what was going on around me.
I think the first time the concept of project management impinged on my consciousness was in 1990 when I took part in the now legendary Nirvana Competition hosted by Sandia National Laboratories (see Helping Sandia National Laboratories Reach Nirvana).
As part of this extravaganza, I remember David Toombs, who was a senior applications engineer (AE) in those days of yore, scampering around asking awkward questions and using the answers to feed his Gantt Charts in order to map out milestones, dependencies, critical paths, and things of that ilk.
Following this competition, I joined Intergraph’s Electronics Group and moved to their headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama. It was around this time that I became much more aware of the people who were managing the various projects we were working on. For myself, I just kept my head down working on whatever tasks I’d been assigned.
As time went on, I become increasingly aware of the complexities involved in orchestrating a complicated project involving lots of players and moving parts in order to generate the desired result in the required timeframe.
If the truth be told, I have no personal interest in management of any sort, including project management. I was cajoled into managing a team in the 1980s and it almost made my brains leak out of my ears. I think a wise person plays to his or her strengths, and the ability to manage other people efficiently and effectively without getting embroiled in their personal lives is not one of mine. This is not to say I don’t appreciate good management—I’ve experienced awesome managers and I’ve suffered awful managers—I just don’t have the necessary skills and fortitude to do the job justice myself.
But we digress… Effective project management is a key requirement to a project’s success, which is why good project managers are highly sought after commodities.
There are associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees in project management, and there are myriad tools available for the aspiring project manager to use. When it comes to books on this tortuous topic, the word “cornucopia” doesn’t adequately describe the wealth of offerings available, including such classics as Project Management for Dummies.
Do you know the one thing all of these resources typically assume? It’s that you, the project manager, are going to be involved with the project from its inception (from when it was a twinkle in its owner’s eye, as it were), and that you are going to stick with the project until its (undoubtedly successful) conclusion.
But is this really true? (Spoiler alert!) No, it’s not!
In the real world, as a project manager, you may have to take over an existing project that is already underway. It could be that the original project manager has to leave due to personal reasons (including being offered a better job for more money with a different company). Alternatively, it might be that the original project manager was invited to exit stage left because the project is poised to enter a death spiral unless someone comes to save the day (I hope you have your “I’m here to save the day” outfit cleaned and pressed and ready for action).
How often does this occur? Is it once in a blue moon and thus not something to be overly worried about, or does it happen often enough that newly minted project managers should start to worry now?
Well, let’s put it this way. If you are a newly minted project manager yourself, this might be a good time to dispatch your butler to retrieve your brown corduroy trousers because a survey shows that more than 90% of project managers have been obliged to take over a project that is already in progress. Moreover, almost 40% of project managers say that 25% of the projects they’ve worked on were already in progress when they took them over, while 25% of project managers say that 50% of the projects they’ve worked on were already in progress when they took them over.
Of course, as that leading philosopher of our time, Homer Simpson, famously said, “People can come up with statistics to prove anything… 40% of all people know that.”
So, where did I obtain the statistics that I just quoted? I’m glad you asked. I just finished reading a book on project management (and that’s not something I expect to hear myself say on a regular basis). The tome in question is There’s a New Sheriff in Town: The Project Manager’s Proven Guide to Successfully Taking Over Ongoing Projects and Getting the Work Done by Martin J. Fenelon.
To be honest, the blurb on the back cover summarizes things better than I could do myself. This reads as follows:
Despite a recent global survey revealing that 67% of projects finish with a different Project Manager than they started with, almost all Project Management methodologies and books assume a fresh project start. The reality is that few PMs have full control over the triple constraints (scope/quality, budget, and schedule) when joining an existing project team.
Are you frustrated by PM books that assume that the PM has a blank canvas when most of the time you are taking over projects that have already started? Then this book is for you!
There’s a New Sheriff in Town provides a proven road map to successfully complete projects, regardless of their current status.
Based on over 40 years of PM experience in multiple industries, with both local and global teams, this practical guide provides you with a step-by-step path to success. Tips, checklists, and sample templates will speed your progress.
This book is a must-have for any PM taking over a project, regardless of your experience level. There’s a New Sheriff in Town will help you lead your team to a successful project conclusion, regardless of the industry or delivery methodology involved.
Martin J. Fenelon III, Sc.D. is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) who has successfully managed projects for more than 40 years across a variety of industries, often with global companies, leading both local and global delivery teams. His experience managing projects in diverse industries such as defense systems, retail, manufacturing, government, insurance, and financial services provides the practical knowledge and experience incorporated in this book. Research and academic experience from his MBA in Operations Management and Doctor of Science (Sc.D.) in Management Systems, and teaching experience as an Adjunct Professor of Management provides the structure, systems, and training aspects of his practical approach to project management.
All I can say is that I read this book from cover to cover. By some strange quirk of fate, two of my neighbors are project managers. During my reading, I asked both of these guys if they personally have had to take over projects in mid flow, and they both replied that it’s happened to them more times than they care to remember (now I better understand their downcast demeanor and nervous tremors).
I’m starting to feel my age. One of these guys is so young (in his early 30s, I suspect), that he’s never even heard of Top Cat, the knowing of which I thought was an American rite of passage (I bet he’s not acquainted with Sergeant Bilko, either). All I can say is he’s fortunate that knowing about these two icons is not a prerequisite for managing hundred-million-dollar projects.
When I told these guys I was the proud owner of a copy of There’s a New Sheriff in Town, they both asked to borrow it as soon as I was finished. So, my next task is to decide who gets to see it first.
But wait, there’s more, because I just saw this video on YouTube showing the author being interviewed about this book.
How about you? Have you ever overseen a project, or have you been on a project the management of which (good or bad) prompts you to want to share some of the details (wonderful or grisly)? If so, now’s your chance in the comments below.
Hello Max! One of the great many jobs I have done in my life, to date, is project management. Having driven many projects to completion in budget and ahead of schedule, I can claim some expertise. Take note. The crucial factors in time schedules are the critical paths – tasks that dictate the end of each milestone. Know your critical paths and do whatever you can to shorten those paths. You must do everything you can to reduce what you know, because there will ALWAYS be something you do not know about. Do work overtime judiciously at all phases of the program to advance schedule – not just at the end when it may be too late. If a part is late on the critical path, send someone to expedite it and refine your plan to minimize the task. Take all action before any one factor becomes the gate on project progress. You must become knowledgeable about every task so you can ask the right questions. You are one of the few with a view of the “big picture”. You can’t expect nor trust that anyone else is deeply thinking about how things mesh. In summary, know your critical paths, from specification to completion, and what exact tasks dictate the bottom-line time outcome. Apply extra resources early and often to beat schedules, to ensure time for the certain unknowns. On one project I convinced all departments to work 24-7 in prototype and module test phases to help ensure we started system level work ahead of time. We delivered the system one month early and it exceeded its life-cycle requirement and worked for ten years without failure.
Hi James, one of the great things about the world is that everyone is different — some people are destined to be leaders, some to be project managers, and some–like me–to eat bacon sandwiches 🙂 We all have our roles to play. I hold project managers in high esteem — I just don’t want to do this task myself.
James, you have done a great job in pointing out one of the lessons that many PMs learn the hard way – don’t assume that you can work harder at the end of the project to make up for time lost along the way. I’ve included a brief discussion of this challenge in my book. Another reason to use overtime work to prevent slipping on earlier milestones is that it sends two messages. To the team it says, we are committed to meeting the schedule that we have developed together and publicized. Outside the team it says that the team is meeting its milestones, so we can have confidence in the schedule, and we need to do our part to stay on schedule as well. Getting both of these messages out, and believed, help smooth the way to a successful project completion.
Most of the projects that I worked on were normally so small that the project management was doine in my head and i was reponsible for most aspects of the prjoect. The ISO9000 auditor via my boss nagged for years for Gantt charts and statistics of meeting targets. It was impossible to even try to implement anything like that, because the prioroty for any of 10 projects going on simultaneously would shift from hour to hour. And that doesn’t even include change in requirements.
I am sure you remember that I have worked on some larger projetcs, but as the recipient of project management decisions (My time as a rocket scientist). The problem in large projects like that is that it is every difficult to produce the specifictions timeously when every word has to be read and commented and discussed in endless meetings by 300 engineers. And the customer changing his mind only delays thing further. As a result actual implementation of the specs must proceed ahead of finalization of the specs if the delivery dates are to be met. Of course the Rockweel Skunkworks were a result of this problem.