Project Management – I only want to hear one click, or do I?

You might recall this delightfully funny airline advertisement aired on television about a decade or so ago – it featured a German airline hostess doing the pre-departure safety instructions. The scene shows her demonstrating to the passengers how to fasten their seat belts. She concludes with a stern, German accented “I only want to hear one click!”  What she did not say, but which was clearly implied was “or else….”. The ad played on what we all admire in Germans: quality, precision, getting it right the first time.

As a project manager (and I’m sure I’m only one of millions) one often wishes that one could execute a project with that same German precision. You’ve put huge effort into planning that budget and schedule and you want to deliver ON TIME, WITHIN BUDGET and to the required level of QUALITY.

Now I’m sure that when one runs a widget manufacturing factory line, this can be achieved. But projects, by their very nature, are about managing the uncertainties as much as it is about managing the schedule and the budget. On the type of projects that I manage, the biggest uncertainties have always been related to the “human resources”.

I must admit that in my early years as PM, fresh out of “project management school” I really only wanted to hear “one click” for every single task and deliverable on my oh-so-well-planned schedule. All I achieved was to get my own stress levels (and that of my team) to dangerously high levels.  Why?  Because I was trying to manage “humans” like “resources”.

Today I hate the term “human resources”. We are people and together we make a team.  It is not about me (the PM) managing the resources (them). It is about understanding that people will get sick, they will have “stuff” happening at home (sick kids, home renovations, car trouble, elderly parents needing care …the list goes on). I’ve learnt to be supportive, to let self-imposed deadlines slip without creating panic about it. I’ve learnt that it is about give and take – support the team and they will pull through. I keep my eye on the bigger milestones and as a team we focus on those.  We are people. People have “stuff” but the great thing is that there is an achiever within every person, just waiting for the chance to emerge. It is the PM’s role to lead, nurture and let the achievers shine!

And yes, then it is quite possible and do-able to deliver a great quality project on time, within budget.

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