Make a list, and check it twice

The Project Manager’s secret for success is keeping good lists. That’s it. Earlier this year I took over a project from another project manager. He was removed from the project for failing to perform to the satisfaction of the sponsor. Before the PM exited stage left, I asked him for his project issues list. Not the list of three issues that you publish to the world in your status report, your real issue list.
You know, the 25 issues you are actually managing.
Turns out he didn’t actually have an issues list. His lists were found in various e-mail trails, in half-recorded phone memos and on Post-it notes that decorated his cubicle. So I sent him a template and asked him to record all his issues. Two days later a list emerged. And there you have it — project management at its worst: The PM who is not in the habit of keeping track of things.
Even average project managers keep issues lists. They have to. Issues bury mediocre PMs. They have issues because they don’t keep other lists — lists that will prevent issues. It took me several years of learning the hard way that you must keep lists. Here are a couple of essential lists to keep:
1. Charters. Your charter is a list that describes the initial position for a project. Just today I read a charter from another project. I could tell from reading the charter this project is going to be trouble. It had ambiguous scope statements, vague assumptions, no risks and the project responsibilities weren’t defined.
2. Project decisions. Decisions are made which affect your project’s ability to deliver. For example, a decision is made by some high-ranking executive to take a key resource off your project for two weeks so that person can do a special assignment for the president. Six months later no one can remember why your project slipped.
3. Issues. You are constantly resolving issues. Here is a tip: Keep your issues list open at all times. As you get an e-mail update, add it to your issues list and remove the e-mail from your inbox. Is this a lot of work? You bet it is. But it’s easier than spending 20 frantic minutes three days later sifting through your e-mail looking for that critical bit of information.
4. Communications plan. As you know we project managers feel like there are never enough hours in the day to communicate with all the people we need to. Typically, as we head towards the parking lot to get our car at the end of the day, we feel we could have communicated more. But do you keep a list of the communications you have to be making? And if so, do you look at it from time to time? A communication plan is only good if you pull it out on Friday morning and ask yourself “have I connected with everyone I was supposed to?”
If you want to determine if project managers are staying ahead of the game, ask to see their lists. They should be able to produce them instantly. And, if they don’t have good lists that they manage with, then they are likely headed towards a project disaster.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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