For many project managers, whether they are working with an external client or inside an organization, setting the right balance between getting the project ready and doing the project work can be a challenge. Often it’s the first challenge from the sponsor. “We need to get started, how quickly can you do the organizing?”
The pressure to minimize the overhead on a project can make it tempting to shortcut the critical planning. The flip side of the challenge is that in a complex project or one with a lot of uncertainty, it can be difficult to feel confident in the planning and take the step into execution.
What do you see happening?
You feel like you are stuck. You are getting pressure to move ahead and it doesn’t feel right. Or, you are trying to move the team forward and they are resisting.
In either situation, the key question you need to answer – even if it is just to yourself – is ‘why can’t we move ahead?’ By digging into the answer to this question, you’ll be able to clearly identify the real problem. When you’ve identified it, you can solve it.
If the real problem is that there is not enough information, can you plan and start executing a beginning phase that includes activities to refine the information?
If the real problem is that the initiation is not complete, you can go talk to your sponsor about the real issues and solve them.
How can you resolve it beyond treating symptoms?
This balance becomes easier as the PM gains experience. As you initiate more projects, you recognize the gaps as they arise and close them without anyone thinking you are dragging your feet. You find ways to move the project along without planning every detail. And, you learn how to deal with uncertainty in the project. In fact, you might find you like the uncertain project more than the clearly and completely defined ones.
A final thought:
Moving between the phases of a project is not always clear and final. We teach that the phases are linear, which helps people learn. In practice, you often revisit earlier phases as you move through execution. Things change and projects need to adapt to the change. It takes a while to learn to balance your time, but it's definitely worth it.
Over the last 30 years of people and project management, Perry Wilson, PMP has a track record of delivering successful projects. Along with four merger projects, she have implemented project management methodology in two Project Management Offices, working with certified project managers and people new to project management. In gaining that experience, Perry learned some key steps to successful implementation of tools.