Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

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How do I make decisions under pressure?

Whether you are managing projects, a portfolio or staff … bigger the size, more pressure you are under to make decisions under pressure. The pace of technology and resulting expectation means the time you had to consider options once seem to be reducing every day. Sometimes it feels like a daunting challenge to operate in this environment. What can one do about it?

how do i make decisions under pressure

Implement required tools

Today there is expectation from customers that you operate in an environment that has real time access to information, that your staff have a good knowledge of what is happening in an account. There is expectation from your own company executives that you are able to provide status of projects immediately and change course as soon as needed. There are enough players in the market with the ability to meet that expectation. There are plenty of cloud offerings that provide per user per month solutions. More and more organisations are getting this capability every day. Longer you put off implementing and using the right tools for the job, you are putting yourself at more disadvantage. Check out tools like AtTask, Liquid Planner, Teamwork PM, Collaborate to name a few. Try them out and settle on the most appropriate one for you. It does take a bit of effort. If your company is loathed to part company with the investment cost, articulate the cost of not doing so. The worst thing you can do is to be comfortable in your own traditional systems and let the world catch up and pass you.

Trust your judgement

Information is one thing, judgement is totally different. In many sports referees utilise television systems to make judgements on matters they may have missed. To my horror I have seen them make mistakes in adjudication despite evidence to the contrary. If you follow cricket or rugby league, the recent Ashes series or the NRL competition are prime examples. I am sure it is no different in other sports. It is not the systems in fault, but the person making the judgement. The best tools will give you the most accurate and timely information. It is your judgement that will set you apart. There are many decisions to be made each day on strategy you want to employ, trade-offs, risk and issue management and so on. You must remember that the reason you are being asked to make such decisions is because of your previous track record and confidence generated from that. Double guessing yourself will lead to your teams doing the same.

Accept you will get it wrong occasionally

We are not born with hindsight. Not every decision you make will turn out to be perfect. Even the best make mistakes. As long as you are making more correct decisions than not, you should be ok. What is considered a good ratio is dependent on the industry you are in. However, one thing you should always do is record the basis for your decisions. This will allow you to analyse them for future decision making or to defend your decisions should something go really wrong. You have to make decisions with the information you have at hand. Recording the basis for your decisions will allow you to judge whether your tools allow you best chance of success or need replacing.

Empower your team

The days of a manager being able to control every aspect of a project, programme or initiative are long gone. Your teams are usually communicating at various levels with your customers and also other suppliers. You have to ensure that not every decision has to be made by you. This is especially true if you are managing in an area where you used to be a subject matter expert. If you start making decisions, I can guarantee you will have to make every decision, thereby ensuring bottleneck. Also beware of outdated knowledge. Just because you knew the content in yesteryear does not mean you know it today. Have trusted leaders in their disciplines. Build a culture of people solving problems themselves. You must reward initiative and avoid being punitive. Nothing spreads hesitation like uncertainty. As long as mistakes are founded in good endeavour and not repeated or caused by negligence, provide mentoring rather than taking them to task. In case of a crisis allow people to step up by showing confidence in them, rather than fighting fire by stepping down. It is hard to hold your nerve in such situations. However, once you do it, the whole dynamic will change.


If there is one thing that you must do, that is to learn from others. Study your industry, field of work, management literature, design patterns … things others have found to work in various situations. There is no sense in learning by repeating mistakes others have made. Research your own success and failures. Look at how your competition works in the market … both good and bad ones. Look at systems and technologies that may give you an edge. Look out for disruptors in the market that threaten the way you work. More aware you are of these, less you will flinch when taking a decisive action.

What are your experiences? Is my feeling having to make more decisions under pressure simply a reflection of my taking on more responsibilities? Or is it a larger trend?

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Have Project Management tools kept pace with time?

I have recently been looking at optimising the way we manage projects. One thing this has led me to think is whether some of the project management tools have kept pace with the way people work today. I am not looking to re-invent the wheel. Neither am I wanting to be lazy. I am after a way to effectively manage delivery by utilising all my resources to the best of their capability.

Projects have been undertaken since humans first realised they could organise themselves into a unit to achieve mighty things. Even before the discipline of project management was a recognised one, we managed to build the pyramids, the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal to name a few. Does that mean it is a profession that exists for no purpose? That is not true. Many of these projects were run by autocratic rulers who had no regard for human life. All three of the projects I mentioned cost the lives of thousands of workers. Fear for life was a successful motivator even as recently as a few decades ago in the communist Soviet Union.

As we have realised fear alone cannot achieve good outcomes, we have put in effort into devising methods to manage projects in a predictable manner. We have many methodologies – most of them very mature. But it seems applications have not matured to the same extent that methodologies have. It still amazes me how many organisations still manage projects by using Microsoft Excel. The next most widely used application I have seen is Microsoft Project. That however has seen no useful upgrade between the mid 1990s, when it first came out and 2010.

Microsoft has realised the folly of that approach and has been concentrating on their enterprise offering of Project Server. I have previously posted about using Project Server and utilising it to identify resource gaps. Having used it for a few years, I have come to the conclusion that it takes considerable effort to keep updated. Unless you have a PMO with enough resources to stay on it, it is nearly impossible to use effectively. Interestingly, LiquidPlanner has taken a different tack to managing projects by accommodating uncertainty through a high and low effort estimate. That is a very useful method if one is using it to manage product development. However, I was unable to find a way to use any sort of baseline that would allow me to track how the overall project is going compared to the original plan.

I have been trying to think what would make a project management tool stand out from the rest. I want to get away from managing in a hierarchical manner Project Managers have traditionally operated in. I want to ensure that the people working in projects I manage have the ability to raise risks and issues with a minimum of administration effort. I want to know the status of projects as close to real time as possible, but not have to chase up for updates continuously. That only serves to annoy technical people, and is a complete waste of my time.

This is the age of social media. People are used to collaborating in all aspects of their life. Being connected is not a bad thing. The project management discipline can benefit from this constant connectivity. If done well, it can provide early visibility of risks and issues, provide a platform to share ideas, sharing knowledge and lessons learned. Having a mobile presence is a must to achieve this. Some of the Agile product management tools have done well in this respect. Another complicated factor is the need to integrate the output from this with billing or ERP systems used by the organisation – in our case SAP Business One.

My search is yielding mixed success. I have been looking closely at two products – WorkFlowMax and AtTask. Both seem to fulfill most of what I am after. I am keen to hear from you if you have tried something similar. What has your experience been? Have you found any products to be good in the areas I am looking for?

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