Published in “Project Times” website, May 20, 2014
Have you ever seen a project without obstacles? In my hundreds of projects over the last 20+ years, I never have! Yet every one of my clients over the years has multiple projects running as they are cornerstone to success. Project results are considered essential – improve service, increase margins, accelerate cash flow, implement or upgrade an ERP system without a hiccup, etc. Thus, it is wise to consider how to overcome obstacles upfront. Prepare for success!
How do we effectively do that and deal with obstacles? 1) First, prepare to avoid them. 2) Remain calm. 3) Think about options. 4) Evaluate
- First, prepare to avoid them! – Well, of course, it is easier to overcome an obstacle if there is no obstacle. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Easier said than done”. No doubt, as I’ve said that too; however, I have found that with a little thought, you can avoid several obstacles.
My best practice for accomplishing this goal is to stick with what’s simple. First, don’t worry about every obstacle. If it doesn’t matter to the project if you overcome an obstacle, don’t waste your time.
Focus only on those that will make a difference – certainly those affecting the critical path! Then, take 5 minutes to think. What is likely to go wrong? Can I live with that potential result? If not, is there something I could do to prevent it? Follow this process for your top 3 potential obstacles for all critical priorities. Soon, you’ll have far fewer obstacles to overcome – and you’ll likely become more effective by default since you can focus on fewer issues at a time!
- Remain calm – Again, much easier said than done. Yet I’ve found this can be the most essential ingredient to success. Although it’s a natural tendency to stress or feel bad about the situation, refrain as much as possible. We think more clearly when not stressed. Instead of thinking of all the ways we screwed up to make this occur or worrying about what the worst-case impacts might be, take a deep breath. Most likely, it is not a life or death obstacle. Although it might require damage control, it is likely that it will not end your career. So, why waste energy? Instead, let’s put whatever energy we have to good use by figuring out a solution.
- Think about options – In my experience in working with all types and sizes of organizations across multiple industries and globally, the best way to overcome an obstacle is the same across the board – think about options. Don’t waste time determining what caused the obstacle at this point (unless it will help in the resolution); instead, focus attention on options to overcome the obstacle. There are always numerous ways to overcome an obstacle. Don’t worry about the merits of each of the options until you’ve brainstormed a list of options. Ask your team members for ideas. Talk with colleagues. Even ask unlikely sources. I’m constantly surprised by what I learn from unlikely places. Project management is a team sport.
- Evaluate – Once you have several potential ideas to overcome the obstacle, evaluate the top few. How likely are they to be successful? What downsides do they have? Which have other negative impacts? Typically it’s best to take resources out of the equation upfront so that you find the optimal solution as folks often get tied up in thinking of what they think is achievable vs. the ideal solution. Why would you want to miss out on a perfect solution because you aren’t sure how to staff it?
Now, it’s finally time to add resources into the mix. Don’t fall into analysis paralysis. Keep it simple: Determine a ballpark amount of time and resources the option will require. Determine to what degree it will resolve the issue or improve the situation. Is there anything else that would have to happen to ensure success? Will it likely be approved?
Then, when you’re 80% ready, GO! In today’s new normal business environment, speed matters. Thus, a 2% improved solution is not worth sacrificing a week of time (or even a day in most cases).
I run into countless obstacles. Whether I’m successful or not has little to do with whether I run into an obstacle; instead, it has to do with how I address the obstacle. Become quicker and more effective, and you’ll surpass your competition.