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As Project Managers, We're All About the Future
- J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM (IIL)

What future am I talking about? The future of the project we're currently managing. Why? Because everyone is obsessed with the future: you, your team, the boss, and the client. Everyone wants to know: when will the project be done? How will it work? There's a lot of anticipation. Yet, we are oftentimes poorly equipped to tell them, our stakeholders. We hedge our bets all the time, and we do so because we don't regularly employ a good tool kit of techniques to help us do the hard work of predicting the future.

 

As project managers, we're placed in the position of predicting the future on a daily basis, an activity that people around the world have been trying to do for thousands of years. 

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And, they have resorted to a wide variety of very interesting techniques, such as consulting psychics and soothsayers, using Ouija boards, going to fortune tellers, and one of my all-time favorites, the Magic 8 Ball!

 

“Predicting the future isn't easy. But with the right techniques and the right folks on the team, we can provide credible information to our stakeholders”.

Of course I'm not suggesting that project managers should use any of these “tools and techniques!” I'm simply highlighting the fact that project managers are paid to do what billions of people have attempted to do for thousands of years. Thankfully, we have better ways to do it.

 

How can you predict the future of your project? Here are three ways that can help.

 

1. Practice Relentless Risk Analysis (RRA) - Every time you have a meeting, use the top ten risks as your agenda. If you practice management by walking around (even if you do it virtually) you should always be asking your team and stakeholders questions about the future. For example: What risks do you see in the near term? What would we do if the top engineer left for another position? What's the Plan B if we don't receive the materials on time?

 

2. After all, risk is a future phenomenon - The more we ask our team about risks, the more we encourage them to think about the future. Employ other tools and techniques such as strategy meetings, the Delphi technique, Monte Carlo analysis and Earned Value Management. Convening meetings to perform scenario analysis, seeking advice from experts, using sophisticated quantitative techniques, and deciding the most appropriate formula for calculating your Estimate At Completion (EAC) are all ways you can gather the information you need to reasonably estimate where your project is headed. Reach out and engage others in the process. Project management is a team sport; use everyone and anyone you can to help.

 

3. Identify your project's “Leading” indicators and track them - Many of the progress and performance metrics used on projects are lagging indicators. They tell us what happened in the past, and, as we know, we can't change the past, we can only react to it. What metrics could you employ to help tell you about the future? One client used the number of tasks added to the schedule every two weeks as a possible indication that the scope was increasing, thus impacting cost and schedule negatively. If the world's top economists believe in lagging indicators, then you should too!

 

In order to reliably assess what the future holds for your project, you need to gather relevant data on a regular basis at frequent intervals. This not only instills a discipline in reporting but it enables you, the project manager, and others, to detect trends. If you are keeping track of trends, then you'll be in a better position to see where those trends lead.

 

However, the key to such reporting is to ensure that the information we receive is credible. That means it is being provided by people who are trustworthy and telling the truth. It does you no good whatsoever to have your team members providing overly optimistic reports. You want the unvarnished truth. As a project manager, you simply cannot be the last to know critical information that's affecting your project.

 

Predicting the future isn't easy. But with the right techniques and the right folks on the team, we can provide credible information to our stakeholders. After all, that's what we're paid to do, isn't it?