But is that the right way? Do we want to use whatever happens to be convenient at the moment to help us around an issue? MacGyver had to because he was almost always dealing with situation of clear and present danger that had to be resolved at that moment. He didn’t have the opportunity for advanced planning or risk management to get him through the messes he faced. As project managers who should be utilizing best practices, we do – or at least we should.
If we get in the habit of looking for the quick fix to our project management problems, then we’re never going to learn how to avoid them in the future. We’ll never learn from our mistakes and we’ll find ourselves always relying on luck to get out us out of messy project situation. Eventually our luck will run out and we’ll be exposed for who we really are….a talentless project manager who has skated by on the ability to avoid project catastrophes that should not have been potential catastrophes in the first place.
If we find we’re stuck in one of those ruts…too busy to focus on the right way to do things and just winging it till fires show up that need to be fought, what do we do? How do we un-stick ourselves, especially when we’re fighting fires on three, four or even five projects at the same time? When I find myself in this type of situation, I follow these two actions to help get myself and my projects back to where they should be….
Go back to the basics
If you’re floundering, then there’s no better time to regroup and get back to the basics. When I’m overwhelmed on multiple projects I like to step back and take stock on where things stand and how I’m running each project. I usually come to the realization that I’m shooting from the hip on one or more of the projects, falling into bad practices because I’m so busy and I’ve let the daily demands of the project management activities lead me into bad habits. At this point I stop, regroup with my team on each project – sort of a mid-project restart or refresh – and I revisit the plans from the kickoff phase of the project. Am I following the communication plan, are we holding regular status meetings and producing status reports according to the original schedule? Are we reviewing issues regularly? All the slow and steady stuff that keeps projects on track – am I doing all those things? I usually find that several pieces of the puzzle are missing and once I get back to the basics and on track to doing what I originally planned to do and managing each project how I promised to manage them, things tend to get back to normal.
Offload a project
No project manager ever likes to say they’re overloaded. Actually, no professional with a good-sized ego ever likes to admit this. It’s the guy equivalent to asking for directions. But sometimes – in order to be successful overall – it must be done. If you’re so swamped that you’re sinking on all projects, then meet with senior management and ask to offload one or more projects. Ideally, if you’re running multiples projects, they’re in different phases and not all hitting stride at the same time. On the rare occasion that they are, it’s ok to ask for someone to take over a project from you. You’re management wants you to succeed, too, and they’ll likely admire you more for recognizing the problem early on rather than after you’re already drowning and the project is already failing.
Angus MacGyver had something the average project manager doesn’t have - a nice group of writers and an avid fan base wanting him to survive to see another adventure next week. His success was guaranteed. We don’t have that luxury. We must rely on PM skills and best practices and we must rely on our teams and organization to help us meet those project challenges head-on. We need to be prepared for the problems we might encounter – meaning we must act proactively rather than reactively to issues on the project. Preparedness through planning, risk management, and PM best practices will find us experiencing more project management successes than failures in the long run. But don’t forget to assess how you’re managing things right now and adjust your practices back to where they should be. And ask for help if you need to – you’ll be more successful on your remaining projects because of that call for help.