Perhaps it was the jab-induced euphoria but I was surprised by how impressed and impressed I found Boris Johnson’s 4-step Roadmap. It is meant to ease restrictions across England, and provide a way back to a more normal life. I will refer to it simply as the “Recovery Roadmap”.
Although the Roadmap was not written by the PM, King James translated it. However, it is clear that Boris, who is the true author, managed to control his notorious “boosterism” and pathological need for popularity (which is fatal in project managers) and finally listened and learned from professionals whose preoccupations were not hugs and holidays, but risk-based planning principles.
I believe that the number one cause of project failure is the behavior of stakeholders. This argument could be used to argue that many customers, sponsors, and stakeholders we meet in the project world could benefit from this excellent example of a meta plan’.
Format Wars and The Myth of Project Planning Predictability
Since the advent of Agile, traditional Gantt charts have been challenged in terms of their value, purpose, and format.
Scrum evangelists would have stated that a Microsoft project plan was not appropriate in a world of Sprints and Backlogs fifteen years ago.
This was, of necessity, an exaggeration that failed to account for the inter-relationships between software development, infrastructure commissioning and business change. All of these dependencies needed to be identified and documented.
It is now common to inherit programmes and projects that were originally planned in Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint. This is partly due to the legacy of this dogma and the pressure from stakeholders to simplify complexity into a set of business-friendly “stars and bar” on a single slide.
A “Plan on a Page (POAP) is a crude tool to manage a project. However, experienced hands know that these cartoonish representations of project management should be carefully caveated and used sparingly. Their separation from the context and underlying risks and issues can be used up the stakeholder management chains to tell a completely different story than the one intended by the author.
The best-case scenario that allows for slippage can be portrayed as a worst-case scenario. However, it may promise even earlier delivery dates, which the project team knows are impossible.
Gantt charts, however, are difficult to digest for those who have not been trained in the dark arts planning and need to quickly distill information to do their jobs. While I don’t cheer Technicolor POAPs, I do recognize the paradox of more detail not necessarily implying more accuracy.
Although plans are meticulously crafted and skilledly executed, they are only snapshots of an informed guess at the moment.
Experienced project managers know that the best plans don’t capture every task and detail every dependency. Instead, they are calibrated according the prevailing optimism/pessimism or include contingency commensurate to the degree of uncertainty.
The brutal truth is that a “good” plan is one that gives me, as a project professional a sporting chance to hit important milestones or bask in the fleeting glory over-delivery when compared against a deliberately undercooked set of delivery promises.
Senior stakeholders need and want certainty. This includes the date at which new capabilities will be available for launch and monetisation, or the knowledge that they are ready for use.