5 Tips to Prioritizing When a Project Runs Into Trouble

Changes Ahead sign; iStockEven the most carefully planned project can run into trouble. Unanticipated weather problems can disrupt the logistics of construction projects, a key software developer quits to take new jobs or an engineer underestimates the time needed to implement components of a production line. Whatever the issue, the challenge of finding a solution falls to the project manager (PM).

It’s a high-pressure situation. The sequence of tasks laid out in the project plan suddenly has holes in it. In essence, the rules of the game have changed though its original objectives remain. Now, the PM must sync up the effort’s priorities with an unanticipated reality. This can mean revisiting the original plan — or at least portions of it — with an eye toward redeploying resources and revamping task lists. All the while, the client expects you to meet the project’s original scope, schedule and budget.

Such situations can’t be addressed on the fly. Developing a plan of attack requires care and detailed communications with everyone involved in the effort.

Determine the most important component. Is the most important driver scope, schedule, available resources or cost? If nothing else, taking a fresh look at this will confirm whether the assumptions you made in your original plan still hold. That’s important as you sketch out an approach to surmounting the new challenges you face. For example, if delivery date is the overriding concern, you may need to adjust the project’s scope or add resources. If budget’s the priority, trimming scope may be your best option. Whatever the situation, the project’s overarching goals are obvious and critical considerations.

Develop a matrix. Create a grid for the project’s key features and determine whether each is required, important or nice to have. (More articles on creating matrixes here and here. *See end of this article for sample matrix.) This will help you do two things: First, get a sense of what’s realistic in terms of time, cost and scope given the challenges you have and, perhaps more important, give you a starting point for discussions with your stakeholders and team.

Consult the project team. It’s essential to view that matrix as a working document. While you’re compiling it, talk to the project team to get its take on what’s required to complete each feature given the new circumstances. Their input will help you present an accurate picture to stakeholders of the project’s true status and their options going forward.

Talk to the stakeholders. With a clear picture of the project’s technical needs, you’ll be able to provide stakeholders with an accurate view of the scenarios available to them. For instance, if the launch date is critical, you can show exactly how additional resources can maintain scope while meeting the original schedule. Again, though, make it clear that you’re gathering information and presenting options. As you did when creating the original project plan, your goal is to develop a consensus around your solutions.

Document everything. Clear communication is always a vital part of project management, but it’s especially important when things are in flux. Be sure everyone involved understands the concerns of others and has their own interests addressed. Once you’ve settled on a course of action, get necessary approvals promptly on paper or by email.

When unforeseen events disrupt your plan, it’s important to take a step back. Evaluate the circumstances carefully and work with the project team and stakeholders to set the priorities necessary to keeping the project on-track.

Merit Career Development can help you develop the skills to respond to real world project management challenges. In fact, many mentioned in the first paragraph of this article are likely to take place in our simulation tool, SimulTrain®. This tool creates an engaging training experience using state-of-the-art computer-based technology. Our PM training programs include key project management topics like risk management, scheduling, managing scope and cost, and leadership skills including negotiation, improved decision-making, and conflict management. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

*Sample Matrix to Help Prioritize PM Elements

Matrix prioritizing

*A sample matrix for a Chemical Tracking System from Software Development, September 1999. Source: http://www.processimpact.com/articles/prioritizing.html


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