Tame Projects That Can Grow Out of Control

by Steven Nichols on March 14, 2012

Some projects have a way of growing on you, like pasta dishes or German Shepherds. Challenges that initially look simple can soak up half a day without a conclusion, or stay on your to-do list for months on end.

Either these projects look easier, shorter, or simpler than they actually are, or they grow in scope. Cleaning the gutters is a 10-minute task, until you discover a wasps’ nest. Suddenly, what was simple before takes longer and has more “moving parts.”

The One-match Fire

Lighting a campfire with a single match (and without lighter fluid) can be frustrating. Success depends more on forethought and preparation and project management skills than a flick of the wrist.

It can be very difficult to anticipate all of the complex detail and consequences of undertaking what seems to be simple. Good information and some circumspection, however, can help. Following are a few items to look for before you leap:

  1. What’s the goal? What is critical for the project to be successful? What is less important? What can be put off?
  2. What resources do you need? Who needs to be involved? When are they available?
  3. What are the risks? What disasters could sideline the project, or distract the team from the goal?
  4. How will this project affect other people and other projects?
  5. What if we succeed? Does success create more problems, projects, or risks?

How many trips to Home Depot does it take to complete a home improvement project? Does the store clerk know you by name? Before heading off to Home Depot to buy bug spray (for the wasps’ nest), think through the implications with these project management considerations.

  • What is the goal? Get rid of the wasps.
  • What resources do you need? Spray, hose, long sleeve shirt. How about goggles and a ladder?
  • What are the risks? Being stung. Having the neighbor kids get stung. Falling off the ladder. What if the spray doesn’t work? What if the ladder is broken? What if Home Depot is closed?
  • How will this affect other people? Can I still make the movie at 7 if I address this now? Will the kids not be able to use the backyard for a while?
  • What if I succeed or fail? The wasps might move to a different place.

Jack and the Magic Beans

Do you suppose a magic beanstalk makes good compost? It is magic after all.

Jack was not the kind of guy who looked before he leapt. He traded the family cow for beans, and then he planted them right next to his house. He probably spent a lot of his gold on weed killing spray at Home Depot, and he probably made several trips.

A little forethought is rare common sense, but it is essential to good project management. Don’t be a Jack.

Steven Nichols is the Director of Business Development for Mission Critical Systems, a Denver Project Management training company. Please contact him or attend the upcoming Situation Management Luncheon on April 2.

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