A good PM will seek to reduce complexity within their project portfolio, and not only within individual projects themselves, but also simplifying how team members work with each other too. It will help to bear in mind Keep It Simple Stupid – KISS – as you read through this piece.
We’ve all been in the same room as “That Guy!” – the one who believes that only by his (or her) presence, the team will not fall apart and the project will fail, because they, and they alone have the power of deep thought and understanding of the nuances of the project. The rest of the team (including you) are intellectually inferior, suitable only for servitude as worker drones and that applies even if you’re senior.
That Guy delights in making the simple and clear, complicated and opaque, if not, downright muddy!
Then there is “The Man” and they are quiet and confident, they listen a lot and take into account body language as much as the spoken word. The Man knows all the big words, but they don’t use them as a general rule, because they want everyone around them to understand what they are saying. The Man engages the project team, manages stakeholder expectations and knows how and when to change direction in order to keep the project on track without the application of a Donald Trump moment, “You’re fired!”
What helps make a PM The Man rather than That Guy?
A fundamental reason is how they each approach the project from inception, particularly the SOW, but the following apply equally to all other areas of project management:
1. Initial Appreciation of Project Documentation or Statement of Work
I recommend you scan the material first, without jumping into the weeds, but enough for you to gain a high-level appreciation of the project from end-to-end.
Be disciplined and do not let a particular area dominate your attention and focus. I keep a notebook handy to jot down points and areas to come back to for greater attention on a later pass.
The objective here is to gain a visual conception of the project, not only in its ultimate end form, but how it is likely to evolve and develop over the life of the project. You’re also looking at this to start sparking off some idea of the pathways you and your team may take to deliver the end-product.
2. Ingestion – Deep Dive
You need to digest the materials once you have a picture in your mind’s eye as to how the project looks. This is where you will also take a deep dive into the project, and I strongly recommend you minimize all distractions. Your brain will take around 15 minutes to get back into the material you are ingesting if there is a break in your concentration, and vital nuggets and glimpses of ideas will quickly evaporate if you are not allowed to focus.
Pick out milestones and be liberal with the highlighters – I suggest you make a copy of your SOW/documentation and use that.
3. Thinking Time
My kids used to give me a hard time when I would take some time out and sit at the kitchen table before embarking on a writing marathon. I would tell them this is my “thinking time,” and of course, I would be in no end of trouble if my thinking time coincided with domestic chores.
The truth is that thinking time is essential.
An acid test is to ask yourself if what you have read and visualized actually makes any sense to you.
Be transparent and brutally honest with yourself – it is easy to become somewhat delusional, but avoid that trap.
Ask yourself what is missing and engage in fact-finding to uncover the facts which will help you honestly answer the acid test question.
It will help keep you sane in later stages of the project!
No matter what form of visualization you are into, it is a highly effective exercise to create some visual representation of the project.
It does not need to be 100% accurate at this stage, and it will of necessity, still be a high level exercise. No matter what you are comfortable with – mind map, swim lanes, workflow – create your visual document.
There are several benefits from doing this, not least it will help you quickly flag up dependencies and the need for contingency planning, as well as creating a framework for relationships.
Visualization is also a very useful tool for spotting missing information, or gaps in the project outline and SOW itself.
5. Present the Project and Your Assessment & Outline
We all get into the habit of being able to explain what we are thinking within the confines of our own heads, but true understanding comes from being able to explain to someone else.
This forces you to not only articulate your understanding, making tangible words from your ideas, but also will allow you to assess whether you are able to explain your understanding in simple terms.
Grab a couple of colleagues and present the project to them, along with your outline and visualization.
Ask them if this makes sense?
Do they have questions on implementation you have not covered?
Pay attention to body language in particular: are they confused or have they grasped what you are pushing?
If you are not delivering true comprehension to your test audience, then you are not delivering true simplicity and your own understanding of the project should be questioned, by yourself before others do.
If your audience is having difficulty, then you haven’t mastered understanding yourself – go back and reiterate these steps.
If not, congratulations – you’re on the way to being The Man, rather than That Guy!