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Project 9 from Outer Space

“Plan 9 from Outer Space” is generally considered to be the worst motion picture ever made and one of the biggest box office flops of all-time.

Personally, I would place “Ishtar” and “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl” in this category, but that’s just my opinion. Plan 9 was such an epic failure that a movie was made in the not too recent past about the misguided and unaware director of the movie, Ed Wood entitled… appropriately enough… “Ed Wood.”

What does this have to do with project management? Not much, so far. But I’ll get to that ttie-in Right now I’m just sharing a fun fact that came to mind. Just be glad, I guess, that Ed Wood isn’t lined up to manage your next project.

Ok, now it’s time for an end to tie it all together. Much like Ed Wood was truly unaware at what a failure his Plan 9 project was turning out to be, project managers can fall into the same “blinders on” vision when things start to go poorly. In fact, others – and in some cases ,everyone – may see it before the project manager does because the fearless misguided leader is so busy with the current tasks at hand and keeping the project on budget and on schedule that they aren’t seeing the big project picture.

So you think to yourself now – “how can I avoid being one of those blindsided idiots managing a project that is sinking fast and I don’t even realize it?” It’s as easy as 1-2-3. Seriously. The right practices will keep you from being targeted. Read on…

Communicate effectively with your team.

One key to not failing miserably on your project is to be certain that you are always maintaining a good communication line with your team. Both giving and receiving. Outgoing communication and listening. Regular team meetings. Frequent emails with project status updates to the team and stakeholders. All this serves to keep people informed, keep the project manager informed because the communication will trigger two-way communication, and help ensure that key information isn’t falling through the cracks.

Communicate effectively with your customer and listen – really listen.

Conduct regular weekly status meetings with the project client. Don’t skip these – even if there isn’t much to discuss on a given week. At least go quickly over the project schedule and go around the room to see what everyone is working on. These are the times where a piece of information that might otherwise slip through the cracks will come out and could potentially save thousands of dollars of re-work just because you didn’t cancel the “unnecessary’ meeting. On top of that, by not canceling you keep everyone on schedule and ready to come next week. As soon as you start to cancel it becomes easier and easier to cancel and regular attendees stop coming because they now consider your project meetings to be irregular and non-essential. Don’t fall into that category.

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Look at the numbers – follow the evidence.

If you are regularly forecasting and re-forecasting the project budget and the resource planning and usage you are almost guaranteed to stay on track – or as close as is humanly possible. When you start to take it for granted and let days and weeks slip by without revising these two essential pieces of the project management puzzle – that’s when they start to slide out of the range of fixable should things start getting out of hand. A 10% budget overrun is fixable… a 50% budget overrun because you weren’t paying attention is probably not fixable and your engagement is destined to be judged a failure in terms of financial performance and profitability. Likewise, if you aren’t tracking your project resources their availability and planned usage on the project, you may end up keeping them on board 100% when they aren’t needed… resulting in added expenses on the project which will affect the project budget significantly and can even affect the project timeline.

Keep the communication stream going with upper management.

You may not like to deal with those on the leadership team. They sometimes can seem to have their hands too much in the pie. When they ask questions about your project often times it’s because they are trying to figure out if you have overstaffed and are hoarding talent they want for another project. Do I sound paranoid? Has this happened to you? Or they are looking for financial updates to squeeze into their revenue forecasts for the C-level looking for higher quarterly earnings forecasts. More true on large programs than on individual projects, but still true. So, yes you can be skeptical when they are poking around at your project that their motives are pure. You’re working hard for your project and customer. They want that, yes, but their priorities are often much different than yours. However, it is still in your best interest to communicate project status with them. In fact, be proactive about it so you can be sure that is one thing they are not coming to look for. By proactively reporting, they know your project and can be able to react faster to needs for funding, resources, decision making and information. And they know you are hard at work on a key project. It may seem contrary to every fiber in your project management being, but making your project more visible rather than less visible is a good thing. Flag it!

Summary / call for input

Don’t be an Ed Wood. Don’t be so unaware that you think the right lane takes you to Unicorn land and the left lane is the path to the Land of Rainbows and Candy Canes. The world isn’t always fair and your project is never going to be perfect. We sort of always need to be managing projects like we are afraid which shoe is going to drop next. That’s why it’s recommended that we start every project thinking of what could go terribly wrong… i.e. risk planning. But that way we can be prepared if and when the bad does happen. There are only going to be two possibilities when a project manager gets a movie made about him… when he successfully gets a man to the moon or when a project ends in a catastrophic explosion. Don’t be an Ed Wood.

Readers – I realize this may have been a bit of a cynical article, but hopefully it touched on some nerves for all of us and was maybe a bit entertaining at the same time. What’s your take? We must ensure we aren’t clueless to the bad stuff, right? Be proactive, but prepare to be defensive as well. Thoughts? Let’s discuss.

Brad Egeland

Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. He has been named the “#1 Provider of Project Management Content in the World” with over 7,000 published articles, eBooks, white papers and videos. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at

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