I had an interesting conversation last week, with an experienced Project Manager. I remembered a similar discussion with another PM, at the end of last year. And it left me comparing the approaches the two of them had taken to solving project problems.
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Part of your job as a Project Manager is problem-solving. So any edge you can get will be valuable.
The first PM (we’ll call him Tony) had a rigorous approach. As soon as the problem emerged, he cleared his desk, gathered all the relevant information, and started making calls. He quickly figured out what the problem was, and proposed a solution. Everyone was happy.
The second PM (let’s call her Tina) also responded immediately to her problem. She picked up the phone, apologized that she couldn’t do anything that afternoon, but promised to go to see the people concerned the next day. Up early, she made the 2½ hour drive and was on-site to meet the local team. Surveying the situation together, they quickly resolved the problem.
And one produced a quicker result, without a half-day diversion. Except that, two weeks later, when Tony’s project went live…
It turns out that the problem wasn’t quite what he’d thought it was. And his solution didn’t quite fix it. Although there was no disaster, go-live for Tony was messy, interrupted, and needed a lot of extra work, at the last minute. Tina’s project went live with immaculate precision, and was enviably friction-free.
The difference between our two types of PM is not that one likes to roll-up their sleeves and get stuck-in, while the other avoids issues. That’s the difference between a project manager and a problem avoider. It’s about process. And, crucially, where the Project Manager addresses the issue.
It’s known as the ‘Gemba’ in Japanese manufacturing. And as the ‘ground truth’ in military circles. There is a special value in going to the actual place where the problem sits, and observing it directly. Maps, data, and third-party accounts rarely do the reality justice. And there is something that focuses your mind about just being there.
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I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own.
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Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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