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I stepped in to lead a project when the Project Manager moved on. Sorry to say, I couldn’t make sense of the plan. Furthermore, each team member confided concerns about the timing. In particular, they did not know when they would get the data they needed from each other. The project outcome was a multi-million-pound bid to a customer. Project recovery was the order of the day.

I took three actions to recover the project.

  1. Made sure everyone knew what they had to deliver and their goals to win the business.
  2. Worked with each team member to understand what they needed from each other and when.
  3. Learnt how the company would evaluate and approve the bid.

Once I knew what we need to do, I built a network diagram. This showed when each team member needed an input from another. I added in estimates of duration to build a schedule.

Cartoon schedule

At this point, I have to confess a little pragmatism. Each team member came from a different business function, e.g., Purchasing, and were senior staff or managers. They followed specialist processes and didn’t need me to plan their jobs.

So, I opted out of Microsoft Project*. One of the PM specialists mocked me (gently) for making a ‘cartoon’ schedule. But I stand by my decision. Not only could everyone understand it, but we could easily share it. No company I know buys Project licences for everyone. And I don’t expect Subject Matter experts to learn how to read a complex schedule. Just as they don’t expect a PM to do their jobs.

Back on track

Within a week, I presented to the leadership team and booked gate and governance reviews. We had a clear schedule and the team needed little ‘monitor and control’. So, I switched my focus to the internal supply chain (Supply Chain Units or SCUs) and the data crunching.

Working with the supply chain

We started by improving our communications. I built a brief and worked with SCU staff to agree deliverables. Our senior managers meet with their counterparts and we held seven-way reviews to learn lessons from each other.

Crunching the data

Designing the engine, supply chain and services generated costs and contributed to the financial business case.

I helped the engineering business manager simplify our resource data requirements and worked with the Finance Manager to develop robust instructions for estimating costs.

All-in-all the project was a success. Until the customer changed their minds and postponed the bid, but that is a different story.

*MS Project is an amazing scheduling tool. In complex projects, I use the network diagram and Gantt chart. The former builds the logic of the project and the Gantt chart gives a resource profile and schedule.

Key skills

Focus on business outcomes – my contribution to winning the business was delivering a timely submission. To achieve that I had to understand and manage all the dependencies.

Cross-functional/ matrix management – understanding the needs and constraints of subject matter experts. Negotiating and influencing to reduce process times.

Scheduling – managing dependencies. Developing timescales and communications.

Team leadership – supporting colleagues. Setting standards and expectations.

Governance – complying with business governance. Engaging stakeholders.

Do the issues in this case study sound familiar?

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