Taking a line from one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite groups… BUSH… I’m thinking about how this line relates to many of our project management experiences. Often, as project managers, the projects we run can seem like we are walking through a series of fires with our teams, our customers and our stakeholders and reacting to many out of frustration looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. But does it really have to be that way? No.
I realize that in the everyday world of project management we are usually – at least once per day – acting “reactively” so something that has arisen on one of the projects we are leading. We try not to make reactive management a way of life because if we do we end up basically putting out fires all day long and all project long. That’s no way to live, no way to manage, and there’s almost on way to keep your project on time and on budget when you are always just reacting to the latest issue. Managing an engagement this way means we’re always going to be one step behind the competition. One step behind the issue or risk. One step behind the real need. Everything will be a surprise. Success will happen because you’re lucky, not because you’re good.
Proactive management wins
In order to stay on top of the activities on our projects, as project managers, we must be proactive. Plan out the details of our project work for the week. Stay on top of the issues. Stay on top of the risks. Revisit the issues and risks regularly – not just stick them in a draw after we’ve identified them. The whole point in identifying them was to be able to appropriately respond to them if and when they happen. Not just to say, “Well, we were right – it could happen.” No, it’s to say, “We were right and we were prepared.”
I like to compare being proactive in our business lives and on the projects we manage to driving defensively behind the wheel of a car. It’s a hard concept to teach – you kind of either get it or you don’t. When you’re driving you need to do several things: consider the weather, consider the driving conditions, anticipate what other drivers are going to do, know what your plans are, and consider what could go wrong. We need to be doing those same things on the projects we manage.
When customers see our teams working proactively on issues and in preparation for upcoming events rather than reactively, it definitely instills confidence in them that we know our jobs and can perform on the project at a high level of excellence. And that confidence translates into customer satisfaction. Confident customers are return customers, and they also work collaboratively with you when problems present themselves and when change orders are needed on the project. And they are far less likely to call your CEO up in the middle of the project and ask, “what they heck is going on” because all they see you doing is fighting fires. Proactive management leads good project managers to make better decisions for their projects, their customers and their project teams.
In the project management world planning is everything. Well, that and very good communication. Good planning breeds preparedness, which in turn breeds proactive management. The manager who is always acting reactively to everything that comes up rarely wins, rarely stays on schedule, and scares the heck out of his now distrusting customer. Plan well, manage risks and issues, and be prepared – as much as possible – to handle those bumps in the road. You, your staff and your customer will be happier for it and success will be much easier to achieve on an ongoing basis on your projects.
Readers – what’s your take on this? How proactive are you in your daily management of your projects? Are you walking through fires or are you proactively planning for risks and tracking issues? Are you always just responding or are you driving forward and knocking down most barriers and putting out most fires with mitigation and avoidance plans you put in place from the beginning of the project? Please share and discuss.