George W. Anderson
As a security director today, the breadth of responsibility that must be undertaken seems to increase every day. We need to stay current on trends in the threat environment, our budgets shrink with regularity, and technology marches on. But one thing remains the same, that is the need to run projects effectively and efficiently in order to keep your security program alive and well.
Over the years, I’ve found that there is an art and a science to effective project management. I know there are whole certification programs on professional project management, and with all due deference to my colleagues who possess such certifications, I am going to take a stab in this column by sharing my own personal 10 steps to effective project management. I hope some of my own experiences, successes and failures, can help inform the reader, if nothing else, about what I think is key to successfully managing projects large and small.
In retrospect, the title of this article may be a little misleading. In my time managing projects, and being on many teams delivering projects, it sometimes seemed like we were getting things out of order, hence the Ready! Fire! Aim! sequence. That is the major Don’t of this tome—don’t let yourself pull the trigger before you know where the bullet is going. But I hope you will find this article is actually more about what to do rather than what not to do.
- Begin with the end in mind.
As leaders or managers, we must have a clear vision of where we want a project to take us. If you don’t, one of the first steps in successfully managing a project is to develop one. This can be a collaborative effort with the project team, or one which you develop yourself, but do have one. If you are upgrading your CCTV system, that is not, in my mind, the actual goal. WHY are you upgrading the system? What are you trying to achieve? Better resolution? More up time? Your team can find a better path if they fully understand what the project is trying to achieve.
- Ensure you have all of the hearts and minds of the stakeholders.
Projects succeed or fail for a lot of reasons. Be sure you have thought of all the stakeholders who will be clients of the project and have taken into consideration their needs when designing the project and what the end state will be. Stakeholders come from all walks of life; and they include your boss(es), other departments in your organization, true clients if the project is undertaken to benefit people to whom you are providing a service. Be exhaustive in seeking the input of as many as possible who will be touched by your efforts. But at the end of the day, remember step 1! Take all that input and boil it down to what YOU want the project to achieve.
- Take Note! Or, more properly, take notes!
Projects need to be well-documented. Develop a project management matrix. At meetings, ensure you have a scribe, or do it yourself. Record discussion points, major decisions, assignments and due dates. Publish those notes to all participants in the meeting and to those not at the meeting who need to know what has been decided and how the project is developing.
- Guide well but don’t be the smartest gal (or guy) in the room.
Projects serve several purposes. They achieve a worthy goal (hopefully) by implementing your vision developed in step 1, but they also serve as a learning and proving ground for the project participants. Allow your team to chew on problems. Depending on the maturity of the team and its members, laying out every step in detail stifles creativity and can also result in better solutions being ignored. Engage your team in problem-solving and let them suggest solutions. Know when to step in to assert your will, but if the team’s solution will achieve the desired result, even if not necessarily the best way, I find it is helpful to allow the team the success of developing the solution.
- Waste time! Have a meeting!
Yes, there is no shortage of funny memes about this topic, so I won’t spend a lot of time. My personal secret to effective meetings is to have them when needed. And in a project, they are needed on a regular schedule to keep things moving. Use the note you develop in step 3 as the agenda. Keep the meeting focused on the team reporting progress. If detailed discussions on pieces of the project are needed, I usually suggest to the team members involved to take the detailed discussion off line and develop their solution, as to not waste the time of the team members not involved in that problem at a progress meeting. And again, produce updated notes from every meeting and ensure you are noting timelines.
- Be prepared for delays and set-backs.
Depending on your boss’s temperament, you need to think about when a project can be realistically accomplished, and then add a little time. Under promise and over deliver is usually the best course of action. Why was Scotty the Engineer from Star Trek such a miracle worker? Because he doubled all his damage repair estimates! When exogenous factors delay projects, be sure to document what things outside your control are impacting on goal achievement but don’t whine about it. Own it and try to keep things moving, nonetheless. Move to an aspect of the project that you can move forward, if possible.
- Have a timeline and track to it.
Fundamental to steps 1, 3 and 5 is developing a project timeline and keep to it as much as possible (see step 6). Know when your vision needs to be achieved (the project delivery date), work backward from that date determining the phases of the project and how long they will take. When you’ve finished, evaluate your original due date for whether it is still a reasonable goal and adjust if needed.
- Identify strong performers and nurture them.
During the project’s execution, you will interact with the team. One of the important goals as an effective leader is to always look out for talented people and help them strengthen their skills. Use the project to do both. And, of course, don’t overlook the opportunity to coach everyone.
- Be sure to engage in all the phases of a project:
- Disillusion and Disenchantment
- Search for the Guilty
- Punishment of the Innocent
- Praise and Honors for the Non-Participants
One of the great leaders in my past had this sign over his desk, so I couldn’t resist adding it to my list. But as we know, in most good humor there is an element of truth. Projects that go awry follow these steps, and as effective project managers, we must look for the symptoms of b and c and step in as needed to right the ship, lest the rest of the steps take hold.
- Debrief each project and apply what you’ve learned to the next project.
With good notes, and a no matter the outcome, every project provides a learning opportunity for the team and for the team leader (that’d be you). Take time to have a formal review session at the conclusion of the project and get everyone’s input on what went well and what could be improved. It will be time well spent.
So, that is my list of 10 things about projects. I hope you found it worthwhile to spend the time reading, and more importantly, that you took one or two tidbits away to improve your own project management skills. And if not, I hope it at least gave you something to think about, to compare your own approach to, in what should be a life- and career-long journey, that of self-improvement. Now, get back to managing those projects and leading those teams!
George W. Anderson is the Director, World Trade Center Security. He is a past chairman of the NYC Chapter of ASIS and currently chairs the Program Committee for the Annual Person of the Year Luncheon and is the Mentoring Coordinator for NYC-ASIS.