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SOLVING PROJECT MYSTERIES!


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Nancy Drew Mystery Stories
The Clue of the Broken Locket (1934, p. 59)

Mr. Drew threw a quick glance at his daughter. He knew her well enough to realize that she had stumbled upon some clue which was not apparent to him.
Actually, she had no clue.


A Project Manager Needs Clues!

I know how Nancy Drew felt. I went from being one of the top techies in my company to being an inept manager, overnight. As a technical specialist, there were always clear clues and a right answer. I knew the solution existed and I knew I would find it, and when I did I would know it was right and I would know it was done. Not so, as a manager.

I needed clues!

The first place I looked for clues: the people around me. That's when I realized I was not alone. I was not the only inept and frustrated manager. This made me more determined than ever to discover clues to help us more effectively manage projects and project teams.

I began digging. And after 20 years, I have unearthed some really good clues.

My first excavation site: graduate studies in psychology at Illinois State University (M.S., 1988). After all, project management is about people. What about the technical aspects of a project like mechanical design or capability of a technology, you ask? Technical aspects of projects are resolved by people. Let's be frank - it is all about the people and if you think otherwise, you need to wake up and smell the project office coffee.

"The main reason we tend to focus on the technical rather than the human side of the work is not because it's more crucial, but because it's easier to do…
If you find yourself concentrating on the technology rather than the sociology, you're like the vaudeville character who loses his keys on a dark street and looks for them on the adjacent street because, as he explains, 'The light is better there.'"

DeMarco & Lister (1987, p. 5-6)

As DeMarco and Lister attest and experienced project managers have learned, human behavior and interactions are complicated and they can have greater effects on outcomes than any other aspect of a project.

A number of good, practical clues were culled from my studies in psychology. From there, I advanced to an even deeper excavation site: doctoral studies in organizational behavior and human resource management at Indiana University (Ph.D., 1997). I took one for the team here, working hard to sift through and understand, and ultimately contribute to, theory and research in workplace behavior. This adventure unearthed several valuable clues for project managers.

I moved on to the Project Management Institute (PMI) and eagerly combed its archives in search of the most useful tools and practices. PMI produces the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK), a key resource upon which the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification exam is based. The PMBoK compiles an extensive array of techniques employed in the discipline of project management. From there, I sifted out a few real gems - tools vital to project management civilization.

And finally, I listened. And still do. Nancy Drew, the legendary sleuth, would agree this is a great way to pick up valuable clues! I listen to what project management gurus such as Neal Whitten have to say. I listen to what industry professionals tell me. And I listen to the working professionals I teach in project management workshops and in university classes. These networks have illuminated additional clues.

My quest culminates in this book. Here you will discover missing pieces of the project management puzzle. Yes, this is the stuff I needed 20 years ago.

Solving Project Mysteries! is designed to complement your favorite project management textbook or reference guide (such as the PMBoK). Yes, a whole host of resources exist to provide grounding in the "hard" practices, such as creating a work breakdown structure or change control system. But in order for those practices to work the way they are supposed to work -- you know, with people! -- you need more. The clues revealed in this book provide insight and direction project managers need to deal with difficult yet commonly occurring situations, situations that other project management resources do not recognize or do not address head-on.

All project managers, rookie and seasoned, will find clues they can use in the chapters that follow. The project plan: How do we get one to help us - not hang us? provides practical guidance for dealing with problems commonly encountered in estimating and planning a project, including actions to take if your organization is pressing you to go forward with a plan you consider to be unfeasible.

The project bus: Why won't he get out of the way? Why is she speeding this thing off a cliff? explains key individual differences and how to make the differences work for your project instead of against it.

Unknowns and unexpecteds: Managing to an unfolding reality presents specific practices to ensure that unanticipated issues are quickly resolved and that emerging realities are embraced rather than ignored.

Bad news bears reporting: Getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth explores reasons why people may not bring bad news forward and, from there, identifies steps you can take to maximize the likelihood of receiving accurate and timely progress information from team members and project leaders.

Working with dolts: Only an idiot would do THAT brings to light a dysfunctional human tendency we all are vulnerable to when judging the behavior of others, and identifies tactics we should employ to overcome this predisposition.

Project hold-ups: How do I get them to hand over what we need? charts a method for persuading someone to do what your project needs, and explains how you can use this technique to minimize escalations and improve the effectiveness of escalations that are necessary.

Crucial project decisions: How can I up the odds of getting it right? exposes two cognitive biases that can lead to bad decisions and provides tactics a project manager can use to counteract these innate tendencies.

He is unhappy with me: That's HIS problem, right? (wrong) acknowledges that if you are doing anything of significance in an organization, you will eventually rub some people the wrong way. This chapter provides guidance on how best to deal with dissatisfaction and negativity when it occurs and why it is crucial that you face it head-on.

Project manager as quarterback: Time to update your playbook? points out that your project management playbook may be too old school, and spotlights a few elements of the "wildcat offense" to consider adding to your playbook.

The final chapter -- How these clues come together! -- assembles the prior clues in a way that directs us to a technique that will significantly reduce the amount of mystery in your projects!

Okay, there you have the plan for this book. It is good to have a plan, isn't it? A good plan keeps you from going off of cliffs. A good plan puts things in place so they are there when you need them. A good plan helps you make appropriate decisions. A good plan helps you retain good decisions you've already made. A good plan helps you communicate progress. Every precious stone I unearthed over the past 20 years corroborates the importance of planning.

But how to arrive at a good plan? One that will help you lead the project to successful completion? By PMI definition, a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to produce a unique product or service. So how do you define a plan for doing something unique, something you've not done before? How do you know how long it will take to do something you're not yet sure how to do?

Truly baffling. But a few good clues will help you crack the case of the elusive good project plan...

[ excerpt from a book being developed by Jo Ellen Moore --
she can be reached at joemoor@siue.edu ]