Three Time Zones for Successful Project Management

I have just submitted my final manuscript for Brilliant Time Management.  I have to say that the last stages have been a struggle, as my editor has forced me to get the clarity of my thinking as sharply defined as possible.  Thank you Sam!

Photo credit: fooosco fosco lucarelli

Past, Present, and Future

One of the aspects Sam forced me to confront was how I discussed the different orientations we have towards time – which is the subject of Chapter 1.

When I had finished, it got me thinking about projects and risk.  It seems to me that one of the reasons for poor project and risk management is an imbalance between the three orientations, towards the past, the present, and the future.

Balance is everything

As with all of project management, we need to get the balance right.  Successful project managers are the people who can correctly diagnose the right point of balance for their project, and then apply it.  The weaker PMs tend to have a favoured point of balance, and apply it, more or less, to all of their projects.  They will thus be lucky sometimes and clueless as to why their project has failed on other occasions.

Balancing Past, Present, and Future

One of the things to balance is the emphasis between past, present and future orientations.  That balance will almost certainly change through the life of your project, but it is a sure thing that if you fail to address each of these three elements, then your project will fail in some way.

Learning Lessons from the Past

I think the PMI has served us poorly in one respect.  Whilst their definition of a project as a “temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result” (my emphasis) is spot on and one I have used often, the word unique can lead us astray.  If let ourselves be seduced by “unique”, we forget that no project is without predecessors.  If we fail to learn from the past, we are “condemned to repeat it”.  (Santayana)

Planning for the Future

The need to plan is axiomatic for all true project managers.  So, in this case it is the UK’s PRINCE 2 methodology that confuses the unwary, by referring to the planning stage as “initiation” and thereby seeming to imply that the project only really starts with delivery.  Fine for small projects where JDI (Just do it) can work, but a disastrous mind-set for a project of any scale or complexity.

Awareness and Responsibility in the Present

I have written before about the importance of monitor and control throughout the project – and here both PMI (Monitoring and Controlling Process Group) and PRINCE 2 (Controlling a Stage) serve us well.  I like the terms “awareness and responsibility” – which come from John Whitmore’s excellent book, “Coaching for Performance because they capture the essence of what real management requires.

The “so what?”

Getting the balance right, between past, present and future orientations in managing your project will help you avert risks and delivery to scope, budget and specification.


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