I don't mention my day job at Microsoft much in this blog, but recently I found myself involved with some new project initiation work and simultaneously with the tail end of a new product launch.* I felt a bit like my favorite bookends: one pushing hard to get a project underway, the other pushing equally hard to get a project concluded more or less as planned.
Here are the bookends in action, doing their job:
If you are a project manager, do you spend more time and effort at the beginning or end of your projects?
So Many Choices!
The project initiation guy on the left, who I'll call LB, has a special focus: moving an idea from concept to the start of execution. Let's assume that LB is in an organization where the initiation of new projects is done by those with organizational authority to commit resources and sign up the organization for deliverables. LB then steps into the picture, and roughs out the detailed execution plans and schedules. LB is the starter. LB's world at this stage is about operationalizing the abstract--building plans that are plausible to produce something tangible.
So Little Time!
LB's focus is distinctly different from our closer, the bookend on the right who I'll call RB. RB's focus is getting the project out the door. In the final stretch of project execution, RB spends much of his time measuring things like risk issues, resource capacity, and output. For deadline-driven projects, what to LB seemed like a comfortably distant delivery date is now looming dangerously close for RB.
In fact, the contrasts between LB and RB are stark:
Where LB had nearly limitless flexibility at the beginning of the project, RB has almost no flexibility. Decisions made throughout the execution of the project, and the environment in which the project is being executed have narrowed RB's range of options considerably.
On the other hand, many of the worrisome, pesky unknowns that kept LB guessing (and developing contingency plans) have become historical points for RB.
You Know The Most When You Can Do The Least
This is the irony of LB and RB. While LB has the widest range of flexibility, he lacks the historical project knowledge that RB has. Yet the events of the project's unique and sometimes surprising course have reduced RB's choices to nearly zero--the same range of choices that actually burdened LB.
Of course, for many projects LB and RB are the same project manager but at different times. When I begin to plan my projects, I think about myself six months or a year into the future. What might future me need in the plan that current me could account for? What would future me transmit back to current me if he only could?
*Postscript: You Need a Little Mischief In Your Life
The project I recently completed is the first thing I've worked on at Microsoft that my kids think is cool. It's call Microsoft Mouse Mischief, and you can get it free of charge here. If you're an educator, please try it out. If you use PowerPoint on a Windows PC, please try it out. Let me know how it goes.
Hands-on with Project Step by Step
To read more about this blog entry's subjects in the two most recent editions of Tim Johnson's and my Project Step by Step books, see the following cross-references.
Planning a project
- Project 2007 Step by Step: "Getting Started with Project," pg. 5.
- Project 2003 Step by Step: ""Getting Started with Project," pg. 4.
Executing, and especially responding to problems in a project
- Project 2007 Step by Step: "Getting Your Project Back on Track," pg. 332.
- Project 2003 Step by Step: "Getting Your Project Back on Track," pg. 322.