5 things likely to disrupt your project plan

So you’re ready to launch a carefully scheduled project plan. You’ve planned backwards and mapped out each stage of the work and who will be responsible for what, and your project plan is a thing of beauty. What could go wrong?

Plenty, it turns out. Here are five of things most likely to disrupt your project plan if you don’t factor them in from the beginning.

1. Not finding out from the start who needs to be consulted or bought in. While you’re the one who’s overseeing and perhaps doing the work, there may be others in your organization (or even outside of it) who need to be consulted along the way. Don’t assume that you’ll be told this information proactively, either. It’s often the kind of thing that comes up when a project is halfway through or (worse) near the end. So make a point of explicitly inquiring at the start of the project whether there are specific people who need to have input or be on board with how you plan to proceed.

2. Not confirming each part of the schedule with others who are involved. If you’re relying on others to play a role in the work – whether it’s actually doing pieces of it or simply signing off on work – make sure that you’ve confirmed with them that your schedule works on their side. Otherwise, you risk finding out at a crucial point in the project that the person you were counting on to sign off by the end of the week is out of the country on vacation and unreachable.

3. Not getting buy-in from leadership above you to prioritize the work. The important thing to note here isn’t just that your leadership needs to think the work is a good idea and worth doing; it’s that they need to be willing to prioritize it over other uses of time and resources. “Sounds like a good idea – see if you can make it happen” is a different thing than “let’s commit to getting it done by January and here’s a budget to use.” If you’re planning to allocate significant amounts of energy to a project, make sure that the management above you is aligned with you about when it should happen and what that will mean for other demands on your time that might arise.

4. Not being clear with others about the roles you need them to play. Especially when you’re relying on a peer to complete a piece of a project, it’s easy to inadvertently miscommunicate what you’d like that person’s role to be. For example, your coworker might assume that you’re only seeking ideas from her, or that her participation is optional, when in fact you need her to actually complete a piece of work by a specific deadline. Be sure to clarify exactly what roles you’ll need people to play from the start – and don’t hide the message. Saying “It would be great if you were able to put something together by the end of the month” conveys a different message than “I will need final copy from you by October 29 in order to make our printer deadline.”

5. Not checking in with others as the work progresses. Don’t assume that work is progressing as you’d planned simply because you’ve given assignments to others. Instead, make a point of engaging regularly, so that you’ll know if the work is moving forward on schedule or whether course corrections are needed. Otherwise, you risk having a nasty surprise when work isn’t completed on schedule or looks significantly different from what you were envisioning.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase. 

{ 5 comments… read them below }

  1. alison with one L*

    Hi Alison, I don’t know if this is just a bug with my browser or something, but the main homepage hasn’t been updating with new articles since Friday. I’ve had to go through the October archives to find new articles. I don’t know if this is a universal problem, but I thought I’d say something. The last article on the home page is “should I use wording from the job ad in my resume or cover letter?”.

    Love the blog! And the name :)

  2. Artemesia*

    This is great. I used to do a lot of program evaluations. The rule of thumb there is that ‘ever stakeholder not consulted and looped in on the planning and implementation of the evaluation will ignore or attack the results.’ This of course is doubly true if the results show problems with the organization or program evaluated. The good evaluation models have feedback loops built in at every stage. Nothing like being ready to collect data and discovering that the supervisors of those who need to provide data have not been consulted or authorized their ‘being interrupted’ for this purpose.

    Never assume people know; being incredibly specific about identifying stakeholders and those with authority to derail the project is essential to success.

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