by Jim Vaughan

How Project Managers Can Get Their Projects Back On Track

Jan 18, 2010
IT Leadership

Project management is like a game of kick the can. Learn to kick better.

For reference let me explain the game of “kick the can.” This is a game I played when I was a kid. The object of the game was simple, kick a can down the sidewalk. The rules were simple, kick the can down the sidewalk and avoid having the can veer off on to the grass using as few kicks as possible. There was no point system and you never really won or lost. It was just a fun challenge to try and kick the can as far as you could and avoid the grass.

I recently wrote about the project “S curve.” This is the planned spending curve and the S shape is the sign of a well planned project. Once that plan is established the object is to keep the actual spending and earned value on that line. There is typically a variance range established in which it is acceptable to be somewhat off the line. The line here is similar to the center of the sidewalk in the game of kick the can. The variance is similar to the grass which you want to avoid.

Once your project starts you watch as your project starts to veer off course. At that point you take action to put you project back “on the line.” In some cases you will cross the line to the other side and in others stay on the same side. All the time you try to stay as close to the center of the line as possible.

For project managers the “kick” is really some action intended to change the course of the project. In most cases that I have seen this typically means adding resources, increasing working hours of the team or re-baselining the project. The typical reaction of increasing staff hours may not be the best solution. Adding resources to a well functioning team may harm the working dynamics of the team. Increasing work hours may create burn-out on the team. Project managers need to look for more creative solutions to keeping their projects on track.

Another solution may be reducing meeting times. Think about the amount of time you spend in meetings. Most meetings are typically scheduled on an hourly basis. Imagine reducing your meetings from one hour to 45 minutes. Would the meeting be just as effective? I think so, especially in later phases of the project when your team is functioning fairly well. Take this extra time and create a “No Meeting Zone” in the daily schedule. I venture that you can increase the actual working time by one or two hours per day. That’s five to 10 hours per week for each employee. Imagine the productivity you will gain!

If there were a point system in the game of kick the can there would be a reduction when the can veered into the grass. Learning to kick the can more directly and with less force may be more valuable to increasing the force behind your kick. This is also true on your projects. I welcome other creative solutions to this problem and will monitor this blog closely to read what you have to say.