Striving for No-Surprise Project Management

We have a love-hate relationship with surprises. In our personal lives we tend to love surprises. Surprise Parties, surprise call from friends, surprise wedding proposals, and movies with surprise endings. In fact, research shows that when we are pleasantly surprised, like when we hear the surprise punch line in a joke for example, our brains trigger the release of pleasure inducing chemicals. In our professional lives however, surprises are the Bain of our existence. We especially hate surprises in project management. Surprises in projects are unexpected, unfavorable, causes for variance from the plan, which cause cost and schedule overruns and unhappy customers.

The idea of taking a “no surprises project management” approach is not a new one. Many people have written about this and many company’s market project management tools, designed to eliminate the surprise factor. This blog offers my personal take on why  Project Managers must “Strive for No-Surprise,” and how they can approach it using a knowledge management mind-set.

It’s my strong belief that project management is about the planning, control and integration of a process that transforms the knowledge resources of an organization into new knowledge sets that provide value for its customers. Business and project management success relies on adequacy, predictability and consistency in this flow and transformation of knowledge. Surprise then, is an artifact of the gaps that can occur in this knowledge flow process. It’s the job of the Project Manager to anticipate and minimize surprises.  How?…

  • By listening to the customers needs and sources of pain to ensure that there aren’t any gaps in the knowledge of “Why” the project is being initiated
  • By defining the work scope to ensure that there aren’t any gaps in the knowledge of “What” is to be done
  • By laying out a schedule to ensure that there aren’t any gaps in the knowledge of “When” the work is to be done
  • By building a responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) to ensure there aren’t any gaps in the knowledge of “Who” will perform the work
  • By preparing a plan that ensures that there aren’t any gaps in “How” the work will be done
  • By using Risk management to chase out potential surprises and mitigate their likelihood of occurring or to build contingency plans that reduce their impact if they should occur.
  • By applying Project performance metrics to give advanced warnings of surprises
  • By establishing Technical, cost and schedule baselines to manage the control the accommodation of surprises
  • By continuously engaging in meaningful communication that keeps the project team aligned, informed, motivated, and “un-surprised.”
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About donmcalister

I retired at the end of 2011, after a 39 year career in the Aerospace industry as an Propulsion Engineer, Engineering Manager and Program Manager. My professional interests and expertise is in the areas of Program, Risk and Knowledge Management. I'm passionate about life-long learning involving a wide variety of topics and I'm committed to sharing my knowledge and ideas with those who are interested. My primary hobby is performing jazz music. I'm a jazz keyboard player, and vocalist, and I'm on the Board of Directors of the non-profit Simi Valley Jazz Club, which is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of jazz music from the '20's through the 60's.
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One Response to Striving for No-Surprise Project Management

  1. Pingback: Surprise Management: Diversify to Weather Tough Times

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