It has been a long while since we wrote about project management principals on Think-ebiz, however a recent event leads me to write this article.
It goes without saying that the Project Manager plays an essential role in a project's overall success. But what happens when that project manager steps away from their role at a critical junction and what should be the best way to manage through this event? Recently this happened - where the PM left for a pre-scheduled vacation. Like pulling your quarterback off the field while your offense remains on the field, the likelihood of success falls off dramatically. Yet sometimes these things happen - a PM gets sick or gets called away. Life happens. BUT what to do next to keep the project on track?
First, all project managers should prepare for this possible risk by having back up support, documentation and plans in place. It could be that the PM cross-trains another PM or manager to take the reigns - with specific instructions on how to keep the project on track.
Secondly, if it is known, the departure of the PM should be embedded within the project plan itself. The project should work around this eventuality. Plan more risky tasks before the PM leaves or preferably after the PM returns.
And if no other back up is available, the project schedule may have to be altered. This is a tough call to make, but having the project fall off the tracks is a much worse outcome.
Unfortunately, in the situation that I am writing about- all three of these suggestions were overlooked. The PM's departure was not embedded into the plan - and in fact wasn't announced until 1/2 day before he left. There was no backup plan nor clear instructions provided to all team members. The result was pure chaos and miscommunications. The moment the PM left the drivers seat, there was no clear leadership, a chaotic vacuum was left in his wake. The results, the train jumped the tracks and the task scheduled during this time period failed. The fall was fast and furious without the leadership to reign in the chaos.
To be fair, there were other factors involved, including errors made by one of the development vendors -but it was clear that the lack of leadership was a major root cause to the overall failure of the tasks... and subsequent bad feeling through-out the team.
Lessons learned. When a leadership void is detected or anticipated - it is best for someone to step up and call a time-out. Pause the project and bring senior management into the picture to review the current plan and options. This "pause" might cause a project delay, but failure is much worse. And in this case - it was.