The Punch Drunk Project Manager

Is this you? It’s certainly me, on too many days.  ‘Stuff’ just seems to pour in – to-dos go red in my inbox, issues arise, send/receive brings another wave of information.  Just another day in the life of a project manager.

Some of it is essential – check how the team is going, get the report done, deal with the urgent issue etc.  But it’s not under control.  The main thing for me is interruptions – I get going on a task and, after 20 minutes or so, start to approach ‘the zone’, the productive place where I can really focus.  And then the interruption – ‘this isn’t working’, ‘can you speak to John’ or another 10 emails arrive.  I deal with it and go back – but the focus has gone.  It will take time to get back to the state of concentration.  And then the interruption, and repeat…

I know, I should multi-task.  But I can’t.  Human beings can’t.  Nor can computers – if you get down into the mechanics of how a PC works it doesn’t multi-task; it just swaps things in and out of the processor so fast that it looks like multi-tasking.  For us mere humans, the task-swapping is what kills you – you can’t go from email, to crisis, to lunch and back again without feeling that you’ve just done 10 rounds with a heavyweight champion.

What’s the answer? Well it’s broader than project management but a great benefit of PRINCE2 is that is very systematized.  Processes and activities are laid out to a degree of detail that makes it easy to follow.  Each activity tells you what to do, when and which documents to update.  And it’s the same document set and activities every project.  Granted, you have to tailor and adapt to the size and scale of each project, but 80% of it is the same.

Ever wondered why the military learn drills and procedures by rote? In the chaos of a war zone you need to do the right things automatically, you need to keep momentum and focus on the desired outcome.  How different is that from projects you have been involved in?

Remember what PRINCE2 stands for

It’s Projects in Controlled Environments.  The PRINCE2 method has been around long enough to have an action for every possible project situation.  Whatever happens – costs go up, costs go down, issues arise, risks happen; the PRINCE2 system says ‘do this, update that, speak to this person.’ You don’t need a unique solution every time – just follow the PRINCE2 procedures you learned and you’ll stay in control.

Some years ago my project was part of a large IT change program in a financial services company.  My project was generally going OK, and then something happened.  It was one of those ‘out of the blue’ things that no-one imagined, but it was potentially serious.  The program manager was good, but under pressure from above.  She passed it on.  I remember hearing “this is your project, you need to get this sorted out – what are you going to do about it?’

At that point I had no idea.  It had just been brought to my attention and it needed dealing with.  I gave the out of the PRINCE2 book answer: “well, I’m going to log it as a Project Issue in the Issue Register.  After that, I’ll do an impact analysis and see how it affects the business case, project plan and any risks we’ve got open.  Once I’ve done that I’ll work out if it’s in Tolerance and, if it is, I’ll deal with it.  If not, I’ll have an Exception Report on your desk by tomorrow morning.” To which the answer was “Oh, OK Paul, it sounds like you know what you’re doing, I’ll let you get on…”

Fantastic.  Don’t need to think; just do. Crisis happens, but it’s under control.   This stuff works and I have confidence in a well proven system and I can use it to get back on track.  Which is great news for project managers.

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