27.06 20120

Should I Worry?

In today’s fast-paced marketplace, with multiple projects in the funnel at the same time, we get into a cycle of always being behind.  In our project organizations and in our individual projects, we are always “fire fighting” instead of engaging in fire prevention and containment.  The problem causes project managers and teams to get burned and, frankly, burned out.  If your organization is suffering from smoke inhalation, shifting your project “worry curve” may revive the life of your organization so that you can see clear to make progress and drop the need to work “80 hour weeks.”

I recently got the opportunity to hear project consultant, Clinton Padgett speak at the Dallas PMI Chapter meeting.  Padgett offered pearls of wisdom from his new book, The Project Success Method.  The book offers a step-by-step how-to guide on managing a project from idea to completion.

The most compelling take-away from Padgett’s talk was regarding “Shifting the Worry Curve.”  He offered a slide visually depicting the life cycle of a project from initiation to closure.  Instead of the standard project curve demonstrating the rise and fall in project resource expenditures, he showed the curve in terms of the rise and fall of worry.   The worry he referred to was the concern for the project demonstrated by the project manager’s and project team’s level of activity.

According to Padgett, the “worry curve” of the typical long-term project begins small with the “uninformed optimism” of the team that time is on the side of the new project.   The immediate concerns of other late stage projects overshadow any worry about the new early stage project.  The general consensus is that the new project can be dealt with later because there is plenty of time; more pressing issues of earlier deadlines should be dealt with now.

As time passes and the project moves toward its desired time goal, the team moves into the stage of “vague concern.”  In this stage, the team becomes aware that less time exists to execute the project; however, other projects still take precedence.  Team members simply bring the project into their conscious mind, still believing that the project can be successful, while knowing that there is less time to make that a reality.

At the peak of the curve, when the project timeline is at least two-thirds spent, the team shifts to the last stage, which is “panic.”  The project is now moved to the forefront of the team’s activities, but it is behind schedule, and it is now in a place to have cost and quality problems, not to mention the stress and mental health issues that this produces for team members.

Padgett recommends maintaining a steady rhythm of worry verses late stage peak worry.  This means, as each project is initiated, keeping a steadier pace of focus on project activities with more ups and downs during the life cycle verses the insurmountable mountain of activity and worry towards the end of the project.  Managing multiple project workloads becomes easier when we do not neglect early stage projects and do not always need to engage in late stage crisis management for every project.  With a more balanced strategy, we will find that we will have less late stage crisis and less “80 hour work weeks.”  For the organization, more balanced time management means fewer “burned-out” and “stressed-out” project teams and less cost and quality issues due to panic stage actions by the teams.

According to Padgett, the management of TIME is the key to achieving overall success on all three dimensions of project performance.  Of the triple constraints of time, cost and specifications, time is the constraint that once out of control is hardest to recover and causes the most damage. Balancing project time allocation is of great value to the project manager and the project organization; it reduces the intensity of worry.

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