05 March 2008

Project Management - Like Crossing the Street

David A. Zimmer

David A. Zimmer
Practice Manager
Corporate Learning & Training
Veris Associates, Inc.

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Recently while giving a presentation to a potential client, I used an analogy of crossing the street. I said:

"Project management is a lot like crossing the street. You can listen to others who have gone that way before and heed their advice. Look both ways, make sure the way is clear and cross before oncoming traffic hits you. Or, you can simply jump out into the street and see what hits you and then deal with the issues that arise."

Sadly, too many people and companies people take the latter approach. From our study conducted in January and February 2006, we learned that 76% of project managers are not formally trained in project management. They are intelligent people, probably very good at what they were trained to do. But somehow, they were volunteered to manage a project and were not given the training to do the job properly. As a result, they stuggled to make the project a success.

Experience shows that even though you are confident in what you are doing, it is always good to have someone watching your back and helping in areas that are new, even though they look very similar to the past. I learned this lesson, almost to my demise, while crossing a street in England. I was ready to cross a road, had my foot off the edge, when I was quickly yanked back to the curb. I was indignant at the person who would do such a thing. I had looked and the way seemed to be clear. I had successfully crossed many streets in my life. But just as I was going to say something to the person who yanked me, a car went whizzing by me and nearly clipped me. I had looked the wrong way! It would have been a fatal mistake. Another perspective on the situation saved my life. My indignation turned into gratefulness.

Veris Associates, Inc. provides that extra perspective. We have crossed many streets successfully - not always without incident though. We have the scars to prove it! Through our "coaching" services, we help you make more informed decisions. We help you see the way more clearly.

One of our clients used our service and saved over $5 million dollars! They were embarking on a new marketing campaign. They wanted us to provide a sanity check on the project plan and roll-out. While the intent was to make sure the "project management" was sane, our understanding of the market and the broader scope helped us to show them the fallacy of their thinking. Yes, we could have helped them manage their project successfully, but our greater understanding of project management show us that the stakeholders' expectations would not have been met properly - a successful launch of the product and the wise use of $5 million. The project would have been a failure and a waste of the valuable $5 million.

Another client asked us to determine how they would make money from a particular project. The project had already been underway for two years with more to follow. The annual budget for the project to date was $90 million ($180 M total) with increased budgets to come. So it was critical to understand the profit potential for such a project. After careful analysis of the business plan, we determined that expenses on the project were 77% of the potential revenue. That 77% of the revenue represented operation expenses and did not include the overhead of the ongoing development of the project or other corporate overhead! As a result, the project would never had made any money. We recommended that the project be cancelled based upon the financial analysis.

We felt like that person who saved my life in England by yanking me back from a speeding car coming for a direction I was not looking. These are just two examples of times when people, confident in what they were doing, looking the wrong way when something was coming from the other direction. We were there to help save them from certain disaster.

So, the next time you wade out into the street, make sure someone is watching your back!