The Rise and Rise of Pointless Project Planning…!

It goes without saying that every project plan, business or product strategy is constructed off the back of a vast series of assumptions.

So, if assumptions are so important and usefull… then why do they get such negative press? E.g.

  • “Assumptions make an ASS [out of] U [and] ME”
  • “Assumption is the mother of all f*** ups”

The problem is people often cut corners when making assumptions… or base plans on assumptions that have no grounding in reality.  This is a big problem.

So, why do people waste their time building plans around totally unrealistic assumptions?

I can see a few reasons why:

  • To prove or illustrate a point
  • To compare a best case and/or worst case scenario with a more realistic option

And we must not forget (controversial but true)…

  • Inexperience
  • Denial
  • Laziness

One more (which seems to be really common!)…

  • Fear of conveying the ‘truth’

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I have no problem (usually!) with plans that are created with the best of intention, best of effort and turn out to be totally incorrect.  In fact, I embrace change… which is one of the reasons why I am an advocate of Agile working practices.

With that said, I do have a problem with plans being created and published that are based upon a series of assumptions that the creator believes are unrealistic.

It truly amazes me how often plans are created simply to pacify a Product Owner e.g. it will take five months, the PO wants it to take two months (without increasing investment or compromising quality)… so the plan is built to *look like* everything will be completed within two months…

What is the point!?

It will only take a matter of weeks for everyone to unveil the ‘truth’… At this point, both the person who created the plan and the Product Owner will lose credibility

One of the biggest challenges for a project manager is to deliver bad news in a positive way.  I admit that this is not always easy.

If you find yourself in the situation described above i.e. your Product Owner wants you become a magician, then consider the following before you give up or decide to fabricate a plan…

Few things are impossible… – most things have a price. The question boils down to whether or not you can afford the price (whether it be measured in monetary gain or reputation gain/loss etc…).

So, “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”…

1)      Familiarise yourself with the Project Management triangle – learn how to sell it

2)      Stress what can actually be achieved given the available resource/timescales – focus on the positive!

3)      Offer options e.g.

  1. for $xUSD we could reduce timescales to two months
  2. by reducing the complexity/scope of feature Y we could deliver in two months.

4)      Consult the business case – can you actually afford to deliver the proposition ‘safely’ by e.g. expanding the delivery team?

5)      Review the scope and determine what drives the ROI – you will often find that a small fraction of the scope drives the bulk of the value.

6)      Conduct a risk assessment e.g. what would happen if you were to fail – would the impact be less or more desirable than an up front increase in cost? How could you mitigate/eliminate these risks?

The key to successful project delivery is to manage expectations, prioritise initiatives and agree a delivery strategy based on realistic set of assumptions.

Collate the facts and present only these facts and options. You can argue with opinion but facts speak for themselves.

A Product Owner or anyone managing a P&L will be ultimately looking to deliver value – this might be in the form of market share, revenue, reputation etc.  They will be looking for the ‘best deal’… it’s your responsibility to help them find the ‘best deal’.

So, keep it real and take time out to ensure you can back up all of your assumptions.  If you don’t, you will no doubt end up with egg on your face.


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