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When the Plan Fails
By Thomas Cutting

In an on-shore / off-shore set up you need to expect the unexpected. Half you your team is in a foreign country, half way around the world. You’re never quite sure what time it is where you live, let alone where ever they are. Languages, especially English, can lead to confusion. Names are redundant (there are four Toms where I now work). I’m not sure how you could possibly have seen the following surprise coming, though.

Picture yourself sitting at your desk on Monday morning, pulling together reports from the weekend and getting ready for the week. Fred comes by with a new face and introduces you to Gupta . The name sounds familiar. “I have a team member by that name, where are you from?” you ask.

“That is me,” is the reply.

“What are you doing here? Don’t you normally work from India?” you ask, bewildered.

“Yes, but I am going to be the project manager on a different project here on-shore now.”

True story. Talk about putting a crimp in your plans.

Resources quit. Scope gets breached. Bugs happen. Systems go down. Priorities change. So what do you do when life throws you a curve ball? Hang on for the ride and follow these steps.

Take a deep breath. Before you react, take a moment to calm your blood pressure before you say or do something you might regret. It might save your health as well as your job.

Confirm it. I hate it when I start yelling about something only to find out I have the facts wrong. Take it to the source and, calmly, get some answers.

Assess the impact. If the issue is scope related, determine the gap factor. Resources can be difficult to replace. Is there a more junior member of the team that might be easier backfill? Can she step up to the role?

Check the schedule and budget to determine what the damage will be.

Identify Options. Don’t work in a vacuum to figure out what to do. Invite your team and other stakeholders to help develop strategies to stay on track.

Present Options. Take your findings and options to the Sponsor or Steering Committee. Explain the challenge facing the project and ask them how we, as a group, should resolve it. One of the things I stress is that the project manager does not own all of the problems. They are “our” problems and “we” have to take steps to resolve them.

Get approval. If a Change Request is necessary, file it and get it approved. Get the go ahead to make the resource changes. Confirm commitment by getting approval.

Learn. Figure out the root cause and take actions to keep it from happening again. You can’t keep a team member from taking a better job offer, but you can make the current position better. Scope is drawn to determine when it does change, not if it will. You can take steps to manage it better.

Move on. It is better to get beyond the issue than to dwell on how things should have been. Once you have taken steps to keep it from happening again get on with successfully completing your project.

Stuff happens. You can’t control the surprises but you can control your reaction. If it were simple, anyone could do it, right?

Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge (http://www.cuttingsedge.com/) and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (http://cuttingsedgepm.blogspot.com).

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