If you fail to plan, plan to fail

We’ve all heard this saying, right? Sometimes though, it takes a fail in our lives for us to remember it again and let it sink in!

This time of year many of us are getting in some much needed travel time, hoping for some rejuvenation and fresh outlooks for ourselves and our careers. This past month, I did just that! My family and I traveled to Europe for a 3 week adventure! I was in full planning mode by arranging all the details and planning what we would see in all the places that we traveled to. This wasn’t necessarily a relaxing vacation (when in Europe, you need to see all you can to justify the 24 hour door-to-door travel time), but since planning comes naturally to me as a project manager, I thought I would nail this planning process as “tour director” for our vacation.

Boy was I wrong!

What I thought was a plan for our trip turned out to be more of an itinerary. I realized early into our vacation that much more planning should have been done. Some challenges I discovered:

1. The driving challenge.

I failed to consider the time of year that we took our vacation. July and August are not only the hottest months in many parts of Europe, but also the busiest. Driving is not as regulated as it is in the United States and based upon our experience, driving can be a bit tricky. Many drivers speed around you or drive too slow where you cannot pass. Many do not stop at stop signs, but will stop in the middle of the road and park. Also, there are so many vehicles on the road, you simply cannot get to your destination on time.

2. The parking challenge.

We learned the hard way that there are no rules when it comes to parking. Parking is not necessarily done in parallel with each other, many times it’s done vertically to other cars or done where it’s blocking other cars. Then there’s the worst case scenario when there is no parking available at all!

3. The doing anything challenge.

When going to the local market, we found the shelves were either bare or the lines were too long. When we went to the beach, there was either no place to sit or you could not walk on the sand because the ground was too hot. At restaurants, it was hard to get a reservation or find a table and eating outside was not an option due to the heat and pesky flies and mosquitos.

Despite these challenges, my family and I did have a great time in Europe. But, when I reflected on these challenges, it really hit home when I thought about how this applied to my professional life.

Having an itinerary is good, but, it must be a plan that is risk-based if you want it to be most successful – and in the business world it must be mostly successful or our plans may fail and cause us to lose our competitive edge. Risk-based project management is an effective tool that can be used in both our personal and business lives, not just the traditional project management areas as I had previously concentrated on.

For example, the other day, I was scanning through my email, and ran across a LinkedIn Learning message of top course recommendations. I was intrigued as I had never run across this before and took note of the following courses:

  • Management Foundations
  • Leading Change
  • Managing Up, Down and Across the Organization

Risk-based Project Management is really a toolbox full of tools that can be customized based upon the complexity of the project. The intent, however, is to always manage risks so that they can be mitigated as quickly as possible. Now in the case of my recent vacation, I planned an itinerary but I really did not use these tools to build a detailed project (or vacation) plan. If I did, I would have laid out the schedule with tasks, responsibilities, durations on paper, and I would have identified risks.

If I did this, Europe being extremely busy and hot this time of year, would have probably come up.

These project tools can be applied to topics such as those classes listed by LinkedIn:

1. “Management Foundations.”

Project Management can be utilized by managers in two distinct situations: By a manager that is actually managing a project with a specific start/finish date and a goal, which is customary, or by a manager who would like to manage their employee tasks via a project plan. Although this is not normally done, it is very helpful.

In both cases, you could use a software-based project planning tool, such as Microsoft Project, or a more complex tool based upon the complexity of the project.

The manager would create a project plan with tasks, dependencies, responsibilities, and durations. Finally, the manager would identify risks and ways to mitigate risks.

2. “Leading Change.”

Conducting a Stakeholder Analysis would be a good way to manage change. A Stakeholder Analysis identifies all stakeholders, or customers, that are impacted by the change, their stake in the project, stakeholder prioritization (low impact/stake holding, high impact/stake holding, low power, high power), and stakeholder management strategy. The purpose of doing this is to prioritize communications so that one can more easily anticipate resistance to the change and build collaboration, etc.

3. “Managing Up, Down and Across the Organization.”

Preparing a Communication Plan would be a good way to manage relationships based upon the Stakeholder Analysis. A Communication Plan looks at how prioritization was given in the Stakeholder Analysis and builds communication around priority. A stakeholder’s priority is based on their relationship to the project. For example a low priority stakeholder may only need to receive a monthly, high-level status report. A high priority stakeholder may need a weekly status report, plus an in-person weekly team meeting. The Communication Plan details the specific communication type, description, owner, audience, and frequency that would be necessary to manage up, down, and across the organization.

Project management tools are an important part to any project (and as we’ve now learned any vacation too!) to attain the desired results or outcome of a plan without fail. As discussed, without a detailed, structured project management tool, such as a plan in place, you may encounter some form of failure from your desired outcome. If failure is not an option for you, keep QSN in mind for your next project!