Project Success Lies In The Details

We normally say, “The devil lies in the detail” and that is the exact same impact if you are not being specific in what you do in project management or even more precisely when you are managing projects.

This is the fourth blog by Mat-Thys in the series “Managing Projects: The Forgotten Art Of Influencing People To Get Results”

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

You don’t know what you don’t know is very true, especially if you are dealing with complex issues and relationships in project management. So, when managing a project you will rely heavily on factual and exact verified information, otherwise, you would be doomed to failure. We suggest very specific process questions you could ask that would help you to derive explicit statements from staff, vendors, and customers. Questions such as:

  • Can you be more specific about “x”?
  • What do you mean by “x”?
  • What is happening that is not supposed to be happening?
  • What is supposed to happen but does not?
  • What is the impact of this problem on the following stakeholders, components and/or requirements of the project?
  • What is the ultimate effect that you are worried about in this situation?
  • What issues and challenges are you experiencing regarding this problem situation?

The above questions or combination of questions are invaluable in the following project situations.

1. Determining project expectations at the outset of the project – The more specific we can be with a requirement/ expectation the better it would be. For example, the businessperson tells you they need to “have access to the application at all times.” You can be more specific by asking that same person to explain to you what they mean by “having access at all times?” The answer to this question will be more revealing and create insight into what their actual expectations are.

2. Determining actual project deliverables – In deciding what this project would deliver, it would also be a good practice to decide what it would not deliver. In other words, what is not included in this project? For example, the deliverable might be to “provide a monthly market report on sales closed.” It will not provide any information on sales that did not materialize.

3. Being specific in your Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) – Project staff typically would cluster certain similar activities together and then later forget which activities are actually represented in the written task or activity. The more specific the activities the easier it is to determine RACI, the more accurate the cost estimations, the easier it would be to modify tasks when something goes wrong and easier to monitor and control the execution of tasks.

4. Being more specific in the RACI matrix – we talked about this in a previous chapter where we suggested you use common sense to bring more specific keyword descriptions to the completion of the RACI matrix. This would ensure that the roles and responsibilities are very clear and there would be no scope for something to fall through the cracks.

5. Getting feedback on activity progress during meetings – People tend to speak in generalities and when answering questions during progress feedback meetings, you need to make sure that the information being offered to you actually means what you think it means. This would be an appropriate time to push back with questions such as:

  • Can you be more specific about “x”?
  • What do you mean by “x”?
  • What is happening that is not supposed to be happening?
  • What is supposed to happen but does not?

The above are just a few examples of how to be more specific. However, the message is clear that you need verified specific information to make informed decisions and to run a project successfully.

All of the above techniques are equally as effective in using them with vendors and customers.

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This blog and this entire series of blogs were first published by Thinking Dimensions Global.

Mat-Thys Fourie
"I believe that Management would like to see their staff as skilled problem solvers, solving and restoring service issues/incidents 'first time every time', reducing company Mean Time to Restore and Mean Time To Repair cycles. This is done by providing staff with repeatable tools/templates and worked situational questions to stay on the path through organizational difficulties and barriers towards restoration and successful recovery." Dr. Matthys Fourie is a Professional Problem Solver as accredited by the Institute of Professional Problem Solvers (IPPS). He is an author of several books on Root Cause Analysis, Project Management, Problem Solving and is the co-author of the KEPNERandFOURIE® Thinking methodologies. He has over 31 years of Problem Solving and Decision Making experience helping organizations across the world solve some of their most vexing and seemingly unsolvable problems. He has worked across a wide spectrum of industries from Automotive, Financial, Manufacturing, Medical Devices, Pharmaceutical, Nuclear, Insurance, Airline, Technology, and Telecommunications. He has work in companies such as Macquarie Group, SASOL, Unisys, SITA, Barclays, RBS, NCS, Singapore Stock Exchange, BMW, VW, Cadbury Schweppes, Westpac, National Australia Bank, Department of Education NSW Australia, Kimberly-Clark, Hollister, Stihl Inc. and the U.S. Navy.