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Scrappy Project Management Synopsis

Author: Kimberly Wiefling


Table of Contents of the Book

There are plenty of books that attempt to explain how to be a successful project
manager. The Project Management Institute (PMI) has created an entire “Body of
Knowledge” — the PMBOK — that codifies a neat, clean, surgical description of how a
project should be managed from start to finish. It’s a nice concept, and in an ideal
world these strategies might actually work. In our world, the project leader may not
even be involved in the project kick-off, less-than-ready-to-ship products are
launched prematurely, and projects run a torturous route that barely resembles the
neat, tidy, well-defined process described in the PMBOK.

Real projects are messy! The PMBOK is the #1 best selling project management
book on Amazon. That’s like having the dictionary being the #1 best selling book in
English literature! Scrappy Project Managers know that the PMBOK is a sanitized
version of what happens in the real world. It’s only the beginning of what it takes to
get the job done. My first project management instructor told me, “Get complete,
accurate, and validated requirements at the start of the project.” This is excellent in
theory, and I’d love to work on a project where we have this luxury. Mind you, people
in hell want ice water too. That’s not happening either. It’s just wishful thinking, and
that just doesn’t cut it in many of the hurricane-like project climates out there. In
fact, there are now entire methodologies that specifically recommend not waiting
until requirements are complete before implementing them.

Many projects start in the deep recesses of some corporate hallway, or over a beer
in some dank little pub. Sometimes the project manager only hears about the project
long after it is well under way. Even when a project is carefully planned and formally
kicked off, the plan usually changes before the ink is dry on the paper. After that it’s
victory by successive approximation to an ever-evolving goal. Waterfalls of
sequential project tasks have been replaced by cyclones of rapid iteration and
massively parallel projects. In the real world, from the time the starting gun is fired,
all manner of changes, surprises, and disasters befall a typical project. Teams
struggle to keep their footing on the quicksand of rapidly-shifting markets, customer
whims, and the vicissitudes of circumstance. Have you ever been on a project where
nothing changed? Me neither, so why be surprised when there are changes to
requirements, dates, budgets, or staff? Forget the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s
usually just a break between tunnels. Learn to love the tunnel!
Change is expected. It need not be the surprise guest at your project dinner party.
The good news is that most of the obstacles or catastrophes that delay or derail
projects are predictable and avoidable. Many project post mortems produce lists of
“Lessons Learned” that are identical to the lessons learned in the last project. If
we’re going to learn the same damn thing every time we might as well call them
“Lessons NOT Learned.” There’s not a whole lot of learning going on when the #1
reason why teams fail to achieve their goals is that they don’t have clear goals, and
the #2 reason why projects fail is that communication sucks (or, in more politically
correct form, is less than sub-optimal)1.

Behold the Scrappy Project Manager. Scrappy Project Managers don’t settle for
hysterics and management by crisis, and they certainly don’t let something as
mundane as so-called reality limit them. They either find a way to seize success from
the snapping jaws of defeat, or they invent one. This book is a collection of wisdom
on how to get results when the odds are against you, when precedence says it can’t
be done, and when the majority of humans believe your project is impossible. It’s a
book for people who aren’t bound by convention, assumptions, or self-limiting
beliefs. It’s for people who can be counted on to get the job done through hard work,
creative thinking, basic common sense, and sheer persistence.

SCRAPPY PROJECT MANAGEMENT is the real deal. It cuts through the BS right to the
bone. Structured around the dirty dozen of worst project practices, the 12
predictable and avoidable pitfalls that every project faces, this book describes what
REALLY happens in the project environment, and how to survive and thrive in the
maelstrom. The converse of the dirty dozen are 12 common sense practices for
project management that have been proven to enable leaders to steer their teams
clear of avoidable disaster and as much as double their chances of project success.

SCRAPPY PROJECT MANAGEMENT is for those who have the stamina to do what
needs to be done in their businesses, and the resolve to go the distance.

The role of project leader is not for the faint of heart. As in many worthy causes, tact
and diplomacy can only get you so far, so be sure to have some spunk and attitude
on hand when you run out of road with the gentler approach. Sometimes an
outrageous act of bravado and nerves of steel will serve you far better than any
fancy-schmancy Microsoft® Project Gantt chart. It is during these defining moments
that you’ll come to appreciate and benefit from the scrappy approach to leading a
project. Let’s all chant together the scrappy words of Will Willis: “If you’re not living
on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” Enjoy the ride!

Here’s a summary of the 12 predictable and avoidable failures that you’ll be


able to avoid after reading this book.

1
Ref: The Bull Survey (1998), The KPMG Canada Survey (1997), The Chaos Report (1995), The OASIG Study
(1995).
The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces. If you’re genetically
gifted with the ability to get results that other people claim are highly unlikely or
darn near impossible, you don’t need to read it. But if you are faced with an
insurmountable “To Do” list, here are 12 predictable -- and avoidable -- pitfalls that
stand between most people and the goals they hope to achieve for success!

1. Forget about the customer. Henry Ford said that the company doesn’t pay
employees a salary, the customer does. The employer is just the middleman.
But many businesses operate as though the customer is an afterthought. One
trip to a retail service establishment is all it takes to confirm this. If you want
to be successful, be completely and unrepentantly obsessed with the
customer, whoever that is, whether internal or external.

2. Fail to set clear goals. According to a blizzard of studies, and my own


observations of businesses over the past 20 years, the number 1 reason
people don’t achieve their goals is that they don’t have goals. Fear of failure
helps people avoid clear goal-setting, or makes them settle for fuzzy,
ambiguous goals. Double your chances of success just by making sure that
you and your co-workers have shared, measurable, challenging and
achievable goals, as clear as sunlight.

3. Communicate poorly. Even with clear and compelling goals, inadequate


communication undermines your chances of achieving those goals. Poor
communication is the number 2 cause of failure, and it’s no wonder. Most
people don’t realize that communication involves both talking and listening.
Many conversations are like two TVs facing one another. Highly successful
people avoid this all too common pitfall by engaging in effective, vociferous
and unrelenting communication with all stakeholders.

4. Keep roles and responsibilities fuzzy. Fumbled handoffs and the left hand
not knowing what the right hand is doing are common causes of setbacks
along the road to success. One of the biggest causes of conflicts in teams is
lack of role clarity. Assure that roles ad responsibilities are clearly understood
and agreed to by all to avoid this unnecessary pit stop on your journey.

5. Plan inadequately and create fictitious schedules. Every hour of


planning saves about a day of wasted effort and rework. And yet, given a
choice most people will either under-plan or fail to plan at all. Even when you
create detailed schedules, they often do little more than document the demise
of the people carrying out the plan. Overlooking critical handoffs and
interdependencies can add days, weeks or months to the completion date of a
mission-critical goal, and what's worse, everyone seems to know from the
start the dates will never be met. Savvy professionals create viable plans and
schedules that enjoy the team’s hearty commitment.
6. Imagine no disaster and see no upside. Many people are so busy just
working on the tasks at hand that they fail to look around the next bend for
possible potholes that could have a major impact on their results. Even when
risks are identified, the most common mistake is to do nothing to avoid them.
And when you're up to your butt in alligators, the last thing you want to do is
stop to consider how to make the outcome better! Those in the know mitigate
big, hairy, abominable risks before they occur, and keep a keen lookout for
upside that can accelerate and amplify their success.

7. Behave as if everything is the top priority. If everything is number 1,


nothing is! Of course, we’d love to have it all, avoiding tough tradeoffs
between things we hold dear. But choices must inevitably be made.
Sometimes costs need to increase in order to obtain a satisfactory level of
quality. Sometimes features must be sacrificed in the name of reliability, or to
hit a hard deadline in a launch window. No one wants to lose one of their vital
organs, but the reality is that sometimes you must prioritize ruthlessly,
choosing between heart, lungs and kidneys if necessary.

8. Be surprised when change occurs. There isn’t a project on earth that has
been accomplished without some kind of change that impacted the projects.
And yet people continue to let change throw them off balance. Change is
inevitable, except from vending machines. Only amnesiacs should be
surprised by it. The world is changing rapidly, and your projects are too, so
anticipate and accommodate necessary and inevitable change.

9. Fall victim to self-limiting assumptions. Of all the obstacles we face in


life, none are bigger than those of our own making. We fail to consider
possibilities outside of our experience, or possibilities that, in the past, have
been off limits to us for some reason, like because we have self-limiting beliefs
about what is possible. And, like fish blind to water, we miss opportunities
right in front of our nose because of the filters of our experience. There are
plenty of examples where people saying something was impossible were
shoved aside by those doing it. Avoid this trap by routinely challenging
assumptions and beliefs, especially insidious self-imposed limitations.

10.Fail to manage stakeholder expectations. What is a stakeholder? Anyone


who cares about what you're doing, and anyone who can either help you or
hurt you in your quest to achieve your goals. Most people fail to identify key
stakeholders who could dramatically accelerate or undermine their success. A
powerful stakeholder analysis tool that clarifies goals is a stakeholder map.
After visualizing all stakeholders and their interrelationships, ask, “What will
this stakeholder be saying when this project is wildly successful?” Frequently
expectations will conflict, forcing to the surface the tough decisions and
tradeoffs between things that initially seemed equally important. Managing
the expectations of all stakeholders up front increases the likelihood that your
delight in accomplishing your goals will be shared by others who are critical to
your process.

11.Repeat the mistakes of the past. A common practice among professionals


is to do what’s called a “retrospective,” where things that went well, and
those that went sideways, are reviewed with the intention of avoiding similar
problems in the future. However, like a B-grade horror flick, the mistakes look
pretty much the same each time through. That’s why I call these reviews
“Lessons not learned.” There’s a difference between 10 years of experience
and one year of experience 10 times. Learn from experience. Make new and
more exciting mistakes each time!

12.Skip being grateful for what’s going right. We seem to be conditioned


from an early age to notice what’s not working and focus on criticism instead
of appreciation for what’s right with the world and other people. And that bias
toward critique is reinforced by a society where negative people appear
smarter. Recognizing what’s working well is equally important. Appreciating
our contributions and those of others provides much needed motivation to
continue onward. Even mistakes can open a doorway to new possibilities,
especially in the world of creativity and innovation. Post-It Notes were an
accident – a failure of stickiness. Practice an attitude of gratitude. If you want
to truly achieve your greatest potential, celebrate successes along the way --
and some failures, too!

Feeling lucky? Play the lottery. But if you want to generate positive results
predictably and reliably, follow these practical and sensible guidelines for getting
things done. Being aware of, and heeding, these land mines on the path to success
doesn’t guarantee success, but at least you’ll fail for new, surprising and more
exciting reasons. Cling to the Scrappy Project Management Checklist, below, as if
your success depends on it . . . because indeed it does!

• Be completely & unrepentantly obsessed with the “customer.”

• Provide shared, measurable, challenging & achievable goals as clear as sunlight.

• Engage in effective, vociferous & unrelenting communication with all stakeholders.

• Ensure that roles & responsibilities are unmistakably understood and agreed upon by all.

• Create viable plans & schedules that enjoy the team’s hearty commitment.

• Mitigate big, hairy, abominable risks & implement innovative accelerators.

• Prioritize ruthlessly, choosing between heart, lungs & kidneys if necessary.


• Anticipate and accommodate necessary and inevitable change.

• Challenge assumptions & beliefs, especially insidious self-imposed limitations.

• Manage the expectations of all stakeholders: under-promise & over-deliver.

• Learn from experience. Make new and more exciting mistakes each time!

• Attitude of Gratitude: Celebrate project success... and some failures, too!