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Happily Ever After – Fairy Tales from the Land of Project Management

As project managers, we can find many common threads between our favorite fairytales and our profession, and can apply many of the lessons learned in these stories to our everyday projects. Read on for three examples of fairytales and project management scenarios that share important themes.

Hansel and Gretel: An Intended Path and Stakeholder Alignment

This classic fairytale tells of a poor woodcutter and his two children. Under the guise of fear of starvation, the children’s evil stepmother convinces their father to take them into the woods and abandon them. The children use crumbs and pebbles to mark the path back home.

In project management, the concept that two business sponsors (stepmother and father) are not on the same page about their goals is a common pitfall to unsuccessful projects. Not agreeing on the fundamental goals or desired outcomes of a project often leads the team down the wrong path. Politics and bad behavior can interfere with the intended outcome if all parties are not in agreement on the original goal.

Very often, the project manager is provided with very little time to plan or map progress. Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs represent a project managed at a “milestone level,” rather than at the task or activity level. A full project plan, including the schedule and sub-plans necessary for navigation, should be prepared before embarking on any journey.

Moral of the story:  Without a solid, agreed-upon plan, a team is bound to get lost, and project managers commonly find themselves retracing steps to the beginning to reset plans.

Cinderella: Politics in the Ballroom and Boardroom

One day, a messenger delivers an invitation to a ball. Cinderella is forbidden to attend, and is put to work helping her homely stepsisters primp for the event. When the sisters leave, and Cinderella is weeping by the cinders, a fairy godmother appears. She gives Cinderella a gown, horse and carriage, and beautiful glass slippers, but the catch is that the magic will expire before midnight. After a mad dash from the ball and a search for the girl who fit the slipper, we get a happy ending.

Often, project managers are handed ‘pet’ projects where a solution has already been selected, wrapped up in a shiny silver bullet in a time-boxed schedule, with an ill-equipped team. The sponsor insists that the project will be a success despite non-existent planning, and the project manager inevitably starts looking for a fairy godmother to save the day.

Passive-aggressive project sabotage and political motives often characterize the project manager’s experience with pet projects from the boardroom and beyond. In the end, the project manager is left to handle the outcomes from these behaviors. The project manager inevitably creates makeshift solutions (carriage, glass slippers), only to see them disappear or fall apart prior to go-live.

Moral of the story:  Projects don’t succeed magically; without support and planning, project goals are unachievable and pet projects commonly fail.

The Three Little Pigs: Building Solid Foundations

We all know the story of three little pigs who decide to make themselves houses. Two are lazy and use flimsy straw and wood, but the third uses brick. A hungry wolf comes along to “huff and puff” and blow down the first pig’s house of straw. The two pigs run to the third pig’s house — the one who took the time and effort to make his home out of sturdy bricks.

Building project management processes on solid foundations can help when the going gets tough. A project manager who follows best-practice methodologies anchors projects to proven practices. Project managers who don’t anchor to best practices can get lazy and look for ways to appease sponsors or team members; they forget that they are also ambassadors for the profession (which takes effort and passion).

When counter-productive or unexpected forces find their way into projects, and the project isn’t anchored to a solid foundation, project managers may find themselves running from issue to issue and risk to risk, without a safe place or shelter.

Moral of the story:  Without solid issue and risk management in place, side discussions, politics and rumors can take hold of communication plans and blow them down.

Back to Basics

Harkening back to these childhood stories and others, project managers are reminded of the basics: understand and manage stakeholders and expectations; always plan and then follow the plan; and stick to the foundations of project-management discipline. There is no wand involved, but when projects succeed, it’s magical.

As a practice manager in Trissential’s E2 Management practice, Cindy Lee Weber is a highly motivated, dedicated and passionate project management professional experienced in both corporate and small business cultures. Her focus on maturing best practices, while providing practical solutions has been applauded time and again by clients.

Cindy believes in measuring success and provides strategic foundations for delivering on-time and on-budget implementations. She consistently leads large improvement efforts for clients, including detailed process improvement for governance, portfolio management process improvement, and process documentation and refinement. Her expertise includes: project management, project management office, portfolio management, project and portfolio framework and methodology, project management training programs, solutions implementation, and measures and metrics.

Cindy is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and an active member of the Project Management Institute’s Minnesota chapter.

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