Uncertainty is the only certainty in project management: Skill 3 – Flexibility
Author: Dan Vucic, Project Manager at IComm
The most successful project managers prepare very well for all foreseeable risks and have alternate methods and approaches ready if necessary. But no matter how well you are prepared there will always be unforeseeable situations that can potentially derail a project. From the point of view of an outside observer it would appear that every project is doomed to be late, over budget or both. But the very best project managers will be able to ride out these situations and problem solve on the fly. To be one of the very best project managers you will need to be flexible.
Firstly, uncertainty is the only certainty. The sheer number of variables that are introduced in a large-scale project are immeasurable and people are always unpredictable. And secondly, no two projects are the same. Often you will encounter some very similar projects, but no matter how similar they seem they can have markedly different challenges and levels of difficulty.
Counter intuitively, the processes and procedures imposed on project managers to achieve more consistent results can stifle flexibility. The best way to overcome this is to design project management processes that allow for flexibility. This could mean changing how things are done in-situation. If moving resources from a function that is ahead of schedule to a function that is looking like it won’t meet a deadline is going to deliver a smoother project result, then there needs to be the provisions for the project manager to make this call.
One such approach to allow for this flexibility is called product based planning, which is an integral part of PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments). The rationale behind this methodology is that change always happens and a great project manager will always plan to accommodate it.
While it is impossible to prepare for everything that might be encountered during the lifecycle of a project, it is possible to expect the unexpected. If activities need to be scaled back and resources diverted to other riskier areas this needs to be planned for to allow for flexibility later down the track. It is worth mentioning that while PRINCE2 offers a solid framework to achieve successful and flexible management of projects, it should not be used in a rigid manner as it is not a set of rules.
Remember, there is no replacement for good sense and thoughtful planning.