Things Are Out of Control, What Do I Do?

Thanks to guest blogger Luis Seabra Coelho for this insightful contribution on what to do when your project is in chaos. See more about Luis at the bottom of this post and follow his blog Ah-Ha Moments for more resources.

Luis Seabra Coelho

Guest Blogger Luis Seabra Coelho of "Ah-Ha Moments"

Here’s a three- part guide to get a grip on things when they’re gone wild.

And I don’t mean out of control like when a task is a day late. I mean out of control like when 6 months passed by and you couldn’t even install a piece of software on a computer. Did it ever happen to you? What did you do then? My suggestion is this three- part guide. It’s a recipe of mine that starts with “Why?”, then requires some KISSing and finally, a dash of common sense (in fact, all you can use).

Part 1 – The “Why?”

Let us start with “Why?”. I recently reviewed a book where a specific meaning was given to the words “outputs” and “outcomes”.  In this book, outputs are the results your project is supposed to deliver. Outcomes are what people will get once they have those outputs. You may be doing a marketing project that is supposed to deliver a TV commercial, which is the output. But did you ever wonder why they wanted that commercial on TV? Did you know they wanted to increase sales by 10%? That would be the outcome.

When things get out of control you should start with the outcomes: why is someone willing to spend his money in this project? What good will come from it? What will people do with its outputs? How will these outputs help achieving those outcomes?  This may sound silly because it looks like taking a step back. It really doesn’t seem very clever to start almost from scratch when you’re entangled in some real hard problems that need a working solution fast. But it’s exactly the opposite: this is not only the clever thing to do but the right thing to do. Often you’re losing your time on no value stuff like trying to find a solution to a problem that has absolutely no impact on your project – and this happens for the simple reason that somewhere along the line you and your team forgot what the project was all about, what outcomes the project was supposed to help build. You got so focused on the small things that pop along the way that you lost the big picture. So go and get the big picture back.

Once you get the it, don’t you let it out of your sight. Keep it all the time on your mind and on the minds of everyone in your team. That is what your project is helping achieve, nothing else.

Part 2 – The KISS

Now it’s time to set some rules. KISS technology is great to start with. KISS stands for “Keep it simple, stupid”. Many problems, even some complex and/or complicated ones have simple solutions. Aim for solutions that are “as simple as possible, but no simpler”. They cost less, require fewer resources and they’re faster to implement. Everything is better when you have a simple way to deal with it. So if you find a simple solution for a problem, don’t look back and go for it.

Part 3 – The Common Sense

Common sense implies KISS technology in some ways but goes way beyond it. Common sense is the set of beliefs that most people would consider safe and solid. Most of Project Management is common sense and only a small portion of the remaining part can be compared to rocket science. So focus on what most of your project and not on the bits that someday (who knows?) may have a possibility to need a Monte Carlo simulation (that’s as close as Project Management gets to rocket science). This is similar to Pareto’s Principle. Today’s version states that 80% of the results are explained with just 20% of the causes (originally, he observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population). So focus on most of the stuff going around and use common sense to set it right. Mostly common sense.

Common sense tells you we humans have 5 senses. But wherever you look for information on the human sense you find proof (and I don’t mean hocus pocus) that we have more than senses than 5. We are able to detect heat from a distance, for instance. And that’s not touch, vision, hearing, taste or smell. But being wrong about this didn’t hurt us humans at all. Again, there are cases where this matters. I don’t think it would have been possible to put a man on the moon while believing that the Sun goes around Earth. But tell me, have you managed such a project? Remember that common sense is about being safe, not right.

And Then What?

So here’s the complete recipe for projects in trouble:

  • Part 1: Check out why the project is needed. Aim for outcomes, not just outputs.
  • Part 2: Use plenty of KISS technology. Be as simple as you can while searching for solutions for your problems.
  • Part 3: Use common sense. Focus on being safe, not being right.

This is a straight forward recipe for success, don’t you agree? Unfortunately, I must break some bad news to you. You won’t get your project back on track with this. And I can also tell you that anyone who says that has a recipe to turn all projects gone bad back on track is lying. There is no such thing.

But this brings a priceless benefit back. This guide will set a stage where everything will run smoother, everyone will be more focused and, best of all, everyone will be focused on what really matters. I hope you remember this the next time you have a troubled project. And get back to me and tell be how it went.

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Meet the Author: Luis Seabra Coelho

Luis is a Project Manager particularly interested on the links between businesses and Project Management – as reflected in his  blog                   Ah-Ha Moments, a knowledge-sharing resource for the PM community.  He first got into Project Management while developing software when he was in University and has been fascinated with it since then. Luis views Project Management as a huge melting pot and he loves it – the challenges, the knowledge and the people; and the feeling of having something “done“.

Contact Luis at luis@ah-ha-moments.net, and follow the Ah-Ha posts on Facebook.

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2 responses to “Things Are Out of Control, What Do I Do?

  1. It takes one woman nine months to have a baby. It cannot be done in one month by impregnating nine women.

  2. Good Guide using the KISS principle. What’s the name of the book on outcomes and outputs? Thanks

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