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An ongoing series of project management blogs 

1. Getting the right equipment 

3rd April 2018

To do anything you need to get the right equipment – try cutting a steak without a sharp knife, untangling your hair without a comb or a brush. It will work, in the end, but it will have taken much longer to do so and may not have the desired outcome. And so it is with a project. Be it at home or at work, we need the right tools to ensure that we achieve what we set out to achieve, to the quality that we wanted – or in other words the desired outcome!

This has just been the first bank holiday of the year and I wonder how many saw the longer weekend (if you weren’t working) as an opportunity to tick off some of those DIY jobs at home? I also wonder how many were ‘caught short’ and needed an emergency trip to the DIY store to enable the job to be finished (after running out of a key component) or to be put right (after a first unsuccessful attempt). I also wonder how many of the tasks are still incomplete – the first flush of enthusiasm gone, the job just too long, too hard, not going right or too expensive to complete. The half complete task now sitting there as a daily reminder that we’ve started something, but not finished it.

And so it is with our daily work life - we sit in a meeting and decide that we will embark on a course of action. Full of enthusiasm we outline what it is that we will achieve, tasks are allocated, the vision agreed. We rush headlong into the task full of enthusiasm – after all we are professionals, know what we are doing, the tasks are achievable and we want to make this work.

In our enthusiasm we may fail to stop and think. Have we got all that we need to do the task, is there anything that we need to do before we start, do we have the time to do this? Inevitably as a result we miss key components for the task – what seemed to be a straightforward activity becomes complicated and ultimately unachievable and the once glittering outcome becomes a weight around our neck and at the next team meeting we reflect and decide that it wasn’t such a good idea after all and put it down to experience.

Or in our enthusiasm to get things right we use all the management tools we can think of – we’ve tried before and as a result of non-preparation or using the right equipment we’ve failed. So we develop project plans, GANTT charts, RAID logs, change logs, stakeholder matrices, risk maps, SWOT and RASCI charts, we hold project meetings, development meetings, stakeholder meetings, team meetings, we consult internally, externally and use online sources, we analyse risks and issues and cover every and any eventuality with mitigations / countermeasures. We are determined that this project will not fail due to a lack of planning or foresight. The project still fails – we’ve planned, but to a point that it chokes the development of the activity and we are too involved in tracking and monitoring that the activity falls by the wayside. Once more we reflect at the next team meeting that it wasn’t such a good idea after all, and put it down to experience.

But what if we rewind to that first meeting and do things differently? What if we stop and consider what the right equipment should be?

How do we want to track the project, and at what level should the project plan be defined?

Who will be responsible – and have we invested the right amount of authority in them and determined the reporting requirements?

How risk adverse is the organisation?

What do we actually want to achieve – so what are our outcomes?

Using these and other questions, we can then select the right equipment to ensure that we will be able to, not only aim for gold, but achieve it.