Therein Squats the Toad
Is there always just one way of doing something? Almost never.
There are almost always several paths to the same outcome. And I thought of that the other day when I heard the quote I am using as the title of this article. The 90’s US TV sitcom show “Dharma and Greg” features straight-laced Greg from a rich family married to off the wall free spirit Dharma from a hippie anti-establishment family. Dharma used this quote “Therein squats the toad” instead of the far more mainstream version of the old saying, “Therein lies the problem.” One is normal, one is a funny new version. I liked it, I laughed, and I’m using it here.
So what am I getting at? Not everything has to happen the same way on every project. Not everything has to be either “waterfall” or “agile.” Not everything has to be by the book. Variation is fun and often necessary. I know I’ve had some off the wall clients who wanted very non-standard “project” things because they didn’t want to deal with the normal status junk. Ok, I’m game… tell me what you do want and I’ll make it happen.
Status reporting – same but different.
Is there one way to report project status? No. I always say that the project manager should look for one overall status report layout that will satisfy all key stakeholders. Their job is hard enough as it is, why go about creating the project status reporting wheel over and over again? Create a good project status reporting format that is rather simple and easy to read, come up with a nice dashboard feature on it at the beginning that gives the higher ups, the C-levels and all the stakeholders who are too important to read the details everything they need to see at a glance concerning the health of the project like status, budget, resources, issues and change orders. But standard won’t always do it and you must be open to that. Sometimes customers only want to see this or that… for whatever reason. I had a nice elaborate project status report ready for a new client complete with automated reporting on tasks just completed, in progress, and starting soon coming out of the project schedule. I was really proud of it. All he wanted was an issues list. Umm.. ok, your wish is my command. I just went ahead and managed my team with the first version I created but he never saw it again.
Here’s another one. Nearly every tool out there on project management offers it’s own ways of managing the project budget – usually in terms of inputting resources costs to a project management timeline and then tracking actuals vs. planned/forecast that way. I will admit that 90% of the time I still prefer to use my handy Excel spreadsheet budget/resource forecasting template for most of the projects I run. Why? Because every customer is different, I often work for different clients at the same time leading THEIR projects for THEIR customers. Their tools are all different, of course.. so unless someone objects I use my own or kind of use theirs while mainly using my own tried, tested and trusted method. More than one way of doing the same thing. And I am a firm believer of working smarter, not harder. It saves the customer dollars and it saves me time.
Whatever works for you, right? Somewhat, but again, sometimes you are mandated by the organization you are working for to use their chosen tool that works best with their chosen methodology. And I do hope you’re not using an Excel spreadsheet for this activity on any project over 100 hours in length… then I don’t care if you are tracking it out in pencil. Too small to worry about.
Transparency or not?
I, for one believe in complete transparency with the project customer. Well, as transparent as makes sense for the project, customer and the situation. But keeping anything negative from the project customer can prove to be a real bad idea because they usually hear everything or find out everything eventually and you’ll just look bad when they do. But there is no harm in keeping bad news quiet for a short period of time while the project manager and team run through scenarios for the best possible courses of action to take. It’s always best to present bad news with some possible solutions. It will go miles on the customer confidence and satisfaction scale. So you can tell the customer right away or come up with some mitigation scenarios first – I prefer the later. Both will work.
Summary / call for input
The bottom line is there is rarely one specific right way to do things and everything else is wrong. Michael Jordan once said that he misses 100% of the shots he doesn’t take. Think about that. Really think about that. You can track your life and see places now in your younger days where you probably zigged when it was definitely an option to zag. I couldn’t imagine myself with anyone but my wonderful wife, but I can see now that some of my “friends” in high school could have been more if I had acted on that interaction… just didn’t see it at the time. Life is full of opportunities… we just need to have more open eyes and take them. What is the worst that could happen? Success earlier? Failure earlier? The best minds and the best project managers and yes, the best players like Michael Jordan have failed a lot. Many things in life are full of different ways of doing a very familiar thing. Managing a project and the tasks associated with it are no different.
Ok, I’m getting a little surrealistic here, but what’s your take readers? Do you agree? Can you look back and say, “oh, yes… I see it now”? I worked for a place that offered a nice ERP type solution that clients would spend a million dollars for me to come in and manage a tech team on a project to configure it perfectly for their business to manage all of their projects, assets, people, work tickets, etc. It has a project management feature… did we use it ourselves on project management activities. Heck no, it sucked. But we could have and we were supposed to. Why make project management harder than it has to be?