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Project Management: Keep Your Sights Set on the Goal

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Picture of Target and Goal Management

The Project Management Post Info in Video Format

For all you video lovers, check out the video below. But not to worry. To get to the written post, just go passed the video. Either way, I hope you enjoy!


In the realm of project management, overconfidence can be a slippery slope. When embarking on a project, it's natural to rely on our wealth of industry knowledge and experience. We believe that our past success lends us an all-encompassing understanding of every facet of the project, and this can lead to a 'Know-It-All' syndrome. However, it's key to remember that project management isn't just about what you know about the industry, but also about effective communication, delegation, and most importantly, recognizing the areas that lie outside of your expertise.

When your project requires the involvement of specialist contractors, it's essential to respect their expertise and incorporate their input. In such situations, donning the 'Know-It-All' hat can jeopardize the project outcomes and strain essential working relationships. So, the next time you find yourself steering a project, remember it's perfectly okay to not know everything. Embracing this fact could be the first step toward successful project management.

On the flip side of things, an equally disastrous approach is to blindly trust the expertise of others, such as outside contractors, without exercising critical judgment. The danger in blind trust lies in its potential to lead you astray from your project's goals. Being too reliant on others' expertise can result in a lack of understanding and ownership over critical project elements.

Project Management: No One Knows Everything

Unsure, doubtful adult black male

Embarking on a project is akin to setting sail toward a defined goal. Much like the captain of a ship, the project manager needs to define the route and the ultimate destination. This includes detailing who is going to perform the work, especially when the expertise needed lies outside the internal knowledge base. However, it's important to tread the fine line between setting the scope and dictating the terms too strictly. While outlining the objective of the project is crucial, whether it's to install equipment, repair it, or any other task, excessively rigid terms can corner oneself. It's like paying for a service that yields no tangible benefit. This could result in technically successful projects - they were completed on time and within budget - yet they deliver no real value to the organization. Hence, it's a balancing act - to define the purpose and scope of the project without stifling the expertise of those brought in to execute it.

It's Story Time!

Consider the story of a large equipment unit that encountered a door malfunction. The issue led to prolonged downtime, and initially, the process of rectifying the problem was hindered due to a transition in management. Subsequently, responsibility for this project landed squarely in my lap. Leveraging the existing information and with requisite management approval, I was able to initiate the repair process. We brought in specialist contractors, scheduled the repairs in line with other preparatory activities, and the project was back on track.

The completion of the work was met with disappointment, as it turned out that the door malfunction hadn't been successfully fixed. The information I had received and relayed to my management was from the previous site manager, whose expertise lay in manufacturing, processes, and contractor relations. The original agreement was based on the details that he had worked out with the contractor. However, those details didn't adequately address the specific malfunction of the door, rendering the repair ineffective and the equipment unit unusable—a significant problem.

Upon evaluation of the issue with my management and the contractors, we crafted a new work agreement, one that would culminate only with the successful repair of the door. The contractors were given more latitude to stipulate what was required to complete the project. Questions were asked to ensure comprehension, and eventually, the revised agreement was approved and implemented.

And the outcome? The door was ultimately repaired successfully. Unfortunately, the cost was additional lost production time and extra work expenses—both of which were far from insignificant. The lesson learned was invaluable: open-mindedness, a focus on goals, and flexibility in project management are keys to delivering real value to an organization.

Project Management: Don't Blindly Trust Experts

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Indeed, the realm of project management is not a black-and-white territory. Trusting your expert contractors implicitly is just as perilous as underestimating their knowledge and expertise. It's crucial to understand that every stakeholder in a project, including expert contractors, has their objectives and motivations. While their experience and insights are invaluable, they may not always align with your desired project outcomes. This underscores the importance of having a strong grasp of your project's goals and ensuring that every decision, and every action, is leading you towards that destination. It's not the expert's responsibility to decipher and realize your vision—the onus is on you to articulate and steer the project toward its intended outcome. In project management, as in life, balance is key. A balanced approach—respecting expertise yet maintaining your goal-oriented perspective—can help prevent detours and keep your project on the right track.

How About a Story to Illustrate the Issue

In this project, although I wasn't directly responsible for management, I was positioned to possibly benefit from its outcomes. In a previous office, we had been dealing with issues related to HVAC duct work and controls—some areas were consistently comfortable, while others were borderline unbearable, especially during the summer. The project aimed to alleviate these issues. An HVAC contractor was hired to install dampers and thermostats, intending to create zones of consistent comfort. Included in this project was my upstairs office. However, the new thermostats merely controlled the dampers, opening or closing based on set points, but they weren't connected to the HVAC units. Consequently, in my office, the damper for the two ducts remained open... but the temperature remained too high. The thermostats controlling my ducts were located downstairs and would reach their set temperatures much quicker than my upstairs office, causing the HVAC units to shut off prematurely. This situation was not only disappointing for me but also for others who found themselves in similar predicaments.

A Valuable Conversation and a Disheartening Revelation

There came a moment in the project when I had the opportunity to engage with one of the HVAC technicians. The outcome, as I had somewhat anticipated, was disheartening. His objective, he explained, was to install dampers that would open and close as needed, directing airflow to my office and others. However, when I asked him directly whether these newly installed thermostats were linked to the HVAC units themselves, he confirmed that they weren't. They only managed the dampers.

My next question was crucial. I asked what would transpire if the downstairs control thermostats attained their set temperatures more quickly than my upstairs office, thereby switching off the HVAC units prematurely. His response, delivered with a hint of perplexity, was exactly what I had feared. He posited that while the dampers would remain open, there would be no airflow. It was at this point that I realized, with a sinking heart, that the project was not going to perform as we had hoped.

I don't wish to appear conceited or dismissive. However, it remains a personal frustration for me when I seem to have a better understanding of a system's operation than a trained professional in that field. That said, it's worth noting that most technicians work under the supervision of others, and the agreement for the project was made between our upper management and the contractor.

This situation underscores the importance of understanding your project's goals and being proactive in engaging with experts. To achieve desired outcomes, it is crucial to ask pertinent questions at the right junctures and not merely rely on the perceived expertise of a professional. Blind faith in the latter can lead to unfortunate circumstances, like in our case, where the project fell short of expectations. It is a potent reminder that when stakes are high, it is prudent to remain involved, to question, to clarify, and to understand. It is our responsibility to ensure that our vision aligns with the execution, and being informed is a significant part of this process. Every project is a learning opportunity, and this experience has invaluable lessons for us all.

Lessons Learned for Project Management

Teacher recording a lesson

In conclusion, the lessons gleaned from these projects have been profound and transformative. A crucial takeaway is the indispensability of having a clear vision and understanding of the true goals one aims to achieve in project management. Without this guiding compass, it is all too easy to lose one's way, whether due to an overestimation of one's knowledge and abilities or an over-reliance on the expertise of others. This is a gentle but firm reminder that success in projects calls for a delicate balance of confidence in oneself and trust in others, coupled with an unwavering clarity of purpose.

Indeed, the planning stage is the backbone of any successful project. It is during this phase that the scope and vision of the project are meticulously defined. It is paramount to make sure all agreements are oriented towards the achievement of the project's goals rather than on peripheral elements that may not contribute significantly to the desired outcome. It is far easier and less costly to modify details, clarify ambiguities, or even change directions before work commences. This phase of a project presents the perfect opportunity to avoid costly diversions and missteps. I have learned this vital lesson the hard way. I hope that my experiences can serve as a beacon, guiding you away from similar pitfalls.

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