Being proactive

March 10, 2010

A project management portfolio of responsibilities for the project manager includes just about everything about keeping the project on track. That needs very accurate planning of actions that are required over the life span of the project. Thereafter you need to continuously monitor the actual performance for any significant deviation from the baseline as currently updated. Should any significant deviations from the planned track occur, corrective actions are to be taken. This may be in the form of preventive actions so that things do not deviate in future and corrective measures to correct the deviating trend.

Earlier you see signs, earlier you can take actions

This capability works in tandem with another skill, that of foresight. The project manager would need the capability to look ahead and discern warning signs. A pattern recognition skill that lets you deduce what a given set of warning signs mean is useful. Proactiveness is about looking out for such warning syndromes and then to take action early. Sooner deviations are brought under control, higher is the probability of a project completing on time and budget. Being able to detect signs early gives everyone a little more reaction time and set up the preventive and corrective actions necessary. This little bit of extra time is often the difference between success and failure. One thing is obvious, frequent formal monitoring points are useful. The project team gets to review the performance data at these points and the formal analysis undertaken at these times bring out any problems that are coming up. Reaction times to deviations are then decided by how frequent these monitoring points have been set up. These reviews being formal affairs involving many people can only be arranged at significantly long time frequencies. Besides, the formal analysis and the reviews take time.

However, many a times there are straws in the wind, some indirect signs that not everything is going properly. If one were to be on the lookout for such tell-tale signs, they usually are noticeable early. As soon as you see a pattern that something is going wrong, you could act and try and prevent the problem. The project manager will need to raise red flags to concerned department or group, if it can be associated with the work of some specific group or a department. This ability to discern a patter, would obviously come from a combination of knowledge and experience. Someone who has been there and done that would spot such events almost immediately some early warning signs start to appear. Thus it is imperative that the project manager is knowledgeable and experienced, particularly in the same domain area and relevant technology.

But, that’s only the hard part of the skills necessary. One needs to have these sensitivity about anything out of the ordinary, ability to detect a pattern and possibly the premonition of danger coming up are necessary as well. The indicators are not hard facts. The numerical or hard data about deviations from baseline are only available after the analysis on the work performance data has been made. So the project manager will have to depend on indirect indicators and the so called “gut feel”.

The items on the watch list of the manager are not only the direct issues such as a noticeable excess use of time compared to what has happened at that time. Lots of secondary effects need to be taken into account as well. For example, if there is excessive conflicts within a team or the team leader is unduly egotistic and commits mistakes in his decision making then these are sure to lead to time slippages. Costs go up in direct proportion too. So, what a proactive manager needs to do besides being watchful, is to resolves these conflicts and ensure project results do not suffer as a result. Waiting for the next formal review that will tell you how much the slip actually is, it is better to take action early.

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