Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” Mike Tyson
I was driving down the highway last week and I heard this quote on the radio from the boxing legend Iron Mike Tyson. The quote made me laugh and smile, and it also made me think and reflect on my own experiences with planning (and pain!). Now I know that Mike was referring to a boxing match, but I could not help but think about how it also applies to the field of project management.
All of us have at one time or another taken a blow to the head while leading a project. Sometimes we see it coming (hopefully, through risk planning); at other times, we are taken by surprise. Either way there are moments when something goes wrong with our plan, and we clearly see the potential negative impact on the project. How we act after getting smacked often determines whether we can recover, or face a project knock-down.
I worked with someone who said that a project did not really get interesting until the first body shot was landed. Often times in projects there are conflicts usually involving people and resource commitments, that can derail the best of plans. As an example, a task or deliverable cannot be reached according to the plan, because a set of resources will not be available when needed. Everyone committed to the plan at first, but then a priority changed, and the resources are delayed. During risk planning you identified and quantified the risk, but you received promises and commitments from all the way up the food chain so you did not specifically create contingencies. Now, you absorb the blow and have to stagger forward. What you can do:
  • Get all the facts before you act – why are the resources not there? Who approved the change? When will they be free? Try and negotiate a solution with the person responsible for the hit. Be forceful, but open to a solution that benefits both parties.
  • Fully understand the consequences of this hit including the potential financial impact?
  • Review your contingency plan with the appropriate project team members.
  • Revisit your project plan…is there any float that you can use?
  • Go right to your project sponsor – make them aware of the situation and its consequences.
  • Do damage control with your project team…do not let them stop what they are doing or you might face further delays. Explain what is happening and why; they will respect the transparency that you provide.
  • Activate and implement your project contingency plan.
  • Closely track any added expenses and the time which is spent on the new actions that you take.
  • Document and provide through your communications plan, the situation, impact, costs and actions the team will take.

Ultimately, how you behave after the punch plays a key role in how your project team reacts. You must recover fast, determine the impacts and alternatives to the project, and move forward aggressively. If you are stunned and too slow to understand and address the situation valuable time will be lost and your project may lose momentum while waiting for you to recover.

Most projects run into some type of problems which impacts the deliverables. The best project managers are experts at foreseeing the problems and building contingencies. Also, they are nimble enough to make adjustments on the-fly that help to keep their projects on-track. Don’t lose your head – prepare, analyze, adjust, and watch out for those upper-cuts.

“Let man be wise by instinct if he can, but when this fails be wise by good advise” ~ Sophocles.


About Dale Myers

A San Francisco Bay Area Project and Program Expert
This entry was posted in Leadership, Managing People. Bookmark the permalink.

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