Project Management

By: John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.

“The nice thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.”  – author unknown

If you get in a car in Chicago with the intent of driving to Los Angeles, the GPS rarely plots the California portion of the map while you are in your driveway. Rather, the GPS methodically and sequentially plots each road to take in order to reach the desired location.  Project management follows the same logic of a series of key tasks or steps that have to be completed in a systematic process in order to meet the desired outcome.  Traveling to Los Angeles from Chicago can only happen if the tasks of traveling through the Midwest and the Rockies are met first.

This type of thinking seems elusive when it comes to business project management.  Ask someone to “map” out the many steps required to achieve a desired result of managing a project and many times you get resistance as in “overkill” or simply a “deer in the headlights” look.  Yet, the dollars at stake as well as the operational disruption to the organization seem secondary to the tedious task of mapping the process in advance.  No one would jump in a car and start driving without a map nor should they start a project without a plan.

Lacking a plan almost assuredly locks in failure as much as putting the wrong project manager in place.  There is a specific skill set that is required from project managers that enables them to manage to an on-time, on-budget conclusion.  It is critical for the organization to identify those key people to lead projects or as an alternative, outsource to industry experts.

Key components of project management:

On-Time, On-Budget: This should be the mantra of every project manager.  There should be nothing more fundamental in the mind of the project manager than completing the project on-time and on-budget. All too often, project managers view their projects in a vacuum but rarely are these tasks within an organization, mutually exclusive.  Failing to comply with an on-time, on-budget philosophy not only causes the project at hand to fail, but risks the failure of other reliant projects.

Know End Game: Determine in advance, what a successful project conclusion looks like.  The most successful projects have a clear vision in mind from the onset.  Poorly managed projects fall victim to duplicative resource allocation and cost overruns known as ”capital creep.”  Capital creep can be crippling to an organization since it not only “sucks away” future dollars to be invested back into the company, but layers on added expense that diminishes the overall return of the project.

Resource Management: Let the fighting begin!  Project management is all about organizing systems and processes in a sequential fashion in order to efficiently complete the task at hand.  Implicit in that mindset are identifying key resources that are necessary to knock out the work. The challenge is, resources are finite and competent people are always in demand.  There can be some intense competition for solid resources – over-allocation of their time is an ongoing concern.

Practice “War Gaming”: Imagine if you could anticipate issues in advance of them happening – that is what “war gaming” is. Play out possible scenarios and anticipate “broken pipes” in advance of them actually happening. Scheduling a resource for a task to be completed only to find out that they are going on vacation is an avoidable “broken pipe.”  By lying out as many steps as you can against a time line, a project manager should be able to recognize obvious “hiccups” to the process in advance and devise alternative solutions.

Be Realistic: Rome was not built in a day and your project will not be either.  Setting realistic goals not only for the project, but especially for the approving committee, is paramount to managing expectations.  The project cannot be built for free nor can it be completed in an afternoon.  Realistic goals and time tables need to be continually communicated and are crucial to the overall perception of the project.  It is vital to manage the expectations all along the way.

Daily Business Impact: The challenge managing new projects for an organization is that they still have a day-to-day business to run. Rarely do they have an idle body to be able to manage a project exclusively.  Prudent organizations are the ones that identify this in advance and either outsource the management of the project or re-adjust internal teams to minimize disruptions to daily operations. Organizations that fail to recognize this impact will not only see their project fall short of expectations, but run the risk of their daily operations slipping.

Deliver The Goods: At the end of the day, the project manager has a fairly clear-cut task at hand:  Deliver a completed project, on-time and on-budget. Managing the project can be fraught with missed tasks and time challenges but the prudent project manager will attempt to minimize those to exceptions only. Leaving the entire project to chance will guarantee only one thing–a failed project. Prudent capital management is one key element to maintaining your operation ongoing profit stream.

John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries.  With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.

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