The Project Notebook

“PLAN” is not a Four-Letter Word (Part II)

Moving forward ten years, I found myself as a program manager responsible for several projects related to a $10M+ Unix rollout. A colleague was responsible for the procurement and hardware side of the operations while I was tasked with getting a workstation into the hands of 400 developers in 16 locations. Each had to be trained on the basic operations of their workstation, they had to receive specialized training for their area of expertise, and I had to manage the support of the systems going forward.

Things were all well until I found myself in the middle of an emergency meeting called by senior management. It seems like their initial decision to exclude any form of internal network wasn’t going to fly. What’s more, other company divisions were approached for assistance, but their charges proved to be several times management expectations, especially since there was nothing budgeted. I was quickly introduced to a consultant since the workstations were due to start arriving in six months. We had a week or so to plan how to install a Unix LAN in a nine-story building, another two-story building, and to provide a solution for field offices – the other 14 locations.

With our short time together, we put together a detailed work breakdown structure and a basic diagram of our network plans. A detailed budget added up the various hubs, brouters, wiring segments, construction effort to build shelving in phone closets, building services support to pull wires, and telephone and electrical personnel to assist. Over the course of the project there would be more than a dozen people involved.

Once more, we did our homework. It turns out every office already had an extra jack for telephones or modems that could be used for the LAN – we carefully tested this “theory”. This was perhaps the largest savings of the entire project. But after putting together a $300K budget, senior managers asked us to find ways to trim $50K. We reviewed the plans and decided we could use a less formal wiring plan in the smaller building – the company had a short term lease there. Making some of the wiring up in-house also saved a few dollars.

With careful management of the installation of each major segment, we had the basic wiring in place, incorporated our laboratory workstations into the network, and also brought on a collection of PCs and Macs – all with a comfortable margin before the workstations arrived. The project finished on time, and below budget a sufficient amount for us to include a T1 line to connect the two facilities together – something management was willing to forego if necessary.

But what has happened to common sense and good project management practice since then? “Plan” seems to have become a four-letter word. I’ve worked for a debt funded company where the owner’s mantra was “I wanted it yesterday”. That company was bankrupt within a year. I speak with companies who are developing without planning and simply calling it “rapid application development”. Like “The Apprentice”, their project managers just “chase everyone around” on a daily basis. Then there are others that start 20 different projects with the resources to do a far smaller number well. Client satisfaction suffers from broken promises and lower quality.

It might be overly bold to say I never managed a project with lots of good planning that didn’t come in on time and on budget, but the record seems to speak for itself. So next time you are about to start a project, make sure you will be allowed to use the p-l-a-n word!

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP