Back to the (Boring) Basics

Quad charts…ugh. Stakeholder mapping…blah. Precedence Diagramming …don’t even get me started.  If you work anywhere near the field of Project Management you have most likely heard of and probably executed these traditional “proven methodologies.”   And if you’re like me and the majority of project management professionals I know, you probably groan/sigh/roll your eyes/{insert any other physical display of disinterest here} when you hear them.  It’s not that they’re bad; they’re just…well…boring.  And we don’t want to be boring.  We want to be creative and innovative and ground-breaking!

Problem is, they’re called proven methodologies because they’re proven to work.  Since time immemorial (or nearly that long) they’ve been showing up and getting the job done.  That iron triangle isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Every single project you manage will have time constraints, resource constraints, and scope restraints.  You’ll want a communications management plan, a schedule management plan, a risk management plan, and about a billion other “management plans” to be successful…right?  Maybe, maybe not, but you’re probably going to find yourself in a world of hurt if you immediately forsake these basic steps of project management due to their inherent boring-ness.

Although many of these tried and true methodologies seem to be nothing more than “check the box” timewasters, they can be extremely useful if the purpose, not the process, is the focus.  These activities are means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.  Focusing on the purpose or outcome of the activity can vastly increase its effectiveness and allows you some room for creativity and innovation.

The point of a stakeholder mapping exercise is not a pretty picture that strangely resembles the solar system with squiggly lines and boxes of varying size; the point is to understand your environment, identify relationship gaps, and ultimately be able to make decisions based on the data.  If you focus on those desired results, you can go about getting them however best fits your team.  You can use new technologies and tools to make the exercise/process more engaging and unique.

For example, creating project data sheets can be a tedious, time consuming, and mind-numbingly boring task.  They usually manifest themselves as multi-page, formula-driven spreadsheets with pivot charts galore.  Now, try using an open-source interactive visualization or infographic tool instead to present the data and voila, much less boring (and more consumable) product. Piktochart is a tool that Corner Alliance has come to love, but there are many options out there that can be customized to work for you. IdeaScale is another tool that Corner Alliance has used to generate ideas and ultimately define our corporate values.  It could easily be used to spice up a traditional requirements identification process.  Poll Everywhere is great for engaging a large audience and soliciting feedback or input.

Long story short, we don’t have to abandon years of best practices and fine-tuned methodologies because they bore us to tears.   If we stay true to the intended outcome of these activities and methodologies, we can incorporate more exciting and engaging angles and aspects while still achieving the desired result.

In what ways have you tried spicing up your basic project management practices?

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Tracy L. McCabe

As an engagement practitioner, I can tell you that I have had many, many discussions with PMs who think engagement of stakeholders is a waste of time. Not only do they not want to invest time in planning the engagement, they want to spend zero time and dollars on conducting the engagement. I find that one way to approach this conversation is to frame it as a risk mitigation tactic; the engagement mitigates the risk of unhappy stakeholders. As a project manager, I think PMs need to be more open to the possibility that other disciplines offer value to project management practice and are not undermining the iron triangle.

Darcy Ziegler

Hi Tracy, what a GREAT point. I think what happens is that we as SMEs (or developers, etc.) think we know what our stakeholders need so we skip the part about asking them what they want (and just as importantly, re-affirming with them continuously throughout the process/project). This results in frustration across the board. I think another reason PMs want to skip this step is because it can be time-consuming and boring (and sometimes, when the engagement ends up affirming what the project team already can seems worthless and wasteful). That’s why I think it’s imperative that project managers continuously investigate and research creative and innovative ways to engage their stakeholders. Different tools offer different approaches and mechanisms to suit each project and each community.