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Project Management in 3 Envelopes
By Murali Ramakrishnan

I chose the title “Project Management in 3 envelopes” because of a popular joke about Project Management.

The joke goes like this:

A new PM takes over a troubled project. The previous-PM hands over 3 envelopes and asks the new-PM to open one whenever the project gets into trouble.

After 3 months, the first trouble comes. The new-PM nervously opens the first envelope. The note inside the envelope reads “Blame your predecessor”. The new-PM starts blaming the previous-PM and project goes on.

After 6 months, the second trouble comes. Now the new-PM is slightly comfortable with his predecessor’s wisdom and opens the second envelope. It directs him to “blame the environment“. The new-PM blames the external market, the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), etc… and project still goes on.

After 9 months the third trouble comes. This time the new-PM is fairly confident. Without any hesitation he opens the third envelope. It states “time to prepare 3 envelopes“.

In a recent presentation about project management, I outlined the first three things a Project Manager need to focus on when taking over a project. To add some flavor, I prepared three envelopes and asked the participants to open each of them. This technique went very well with the attendees. My three envelopes were:

The Three Envelopes of Project Management

Figure 1: The three envelopes of project management

  1. Assess the project

    The first thing a new Project Manager need to do is assess the status of the project. They have to balance the soft and hard issues. The three things they need to perform while assessing are:

    1. Assess perceptions
    2. Assess financials
    3. Assess risks

    I emphasized that assessing perceptions is equally important. If every stakeholder on the project feels the project is not in good shape, the new PM needs to manage the expectations irrespective of the financial status of the project. Similarly, even if everyone perceives the project is going OK, but the financials are not good, the PM needs to understand the implications.

    The obvious but often overlooked step in the assessment phase is to perform risk assessment. The new-PM needs to have a clear understanding of the risks.

  2. Communicate about the project

    The second envelope deals with communication. After the assessment, the new-PM need to clearly articulate his/her own assessment of the project. The communications should cover

    1. Senior management/project sponsor/board
    2. Customers
    3. Other stakeholders

    It is important that the new-PM does not over-promise. He/she needs to set clear expectations. The new-PM needs to convey a sense of control to the stakeholders.

  3. Understand the team

    Last but not the least, the new-Project Manager needs to understand the team. As the project is troubled, the new-PM can expect the morale of the team to be low. It is the new-PM’s job to lift the morale. The PM needs to understand that the project’s success will depend upon the team work. In the team building “envelope” I talked about:

    1. Reassurance
    2. Restructure
    3. Reward

And that concludes my presentation about the 3 envelopes of project management…

Murali Ramakrishnan is the founder and Managing Director of Process-Symphony. Process-symphony provides consultancy in Governance, Program Management, Service Management and Continual Improvement.

The elearning portal “” provides free exam preparation material for PMP and ITIL certifications.

Murali’s other articles can be found in

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