The Project Notebook

Just for Today

[Happy New Year! I just returned from a 10-day trip to the east coast to visit clients and attend the annual Volunteer Strategy and Planning meeting for PMI Global Operations Center volunteers in Philadelphia. To start off the New Year of the Project Notebook, here is Susan Peterson’s message from January 2005 which seems even more relevant today in light of the challenges expected for all in 2009. – RWF]

It’s that time of year when so many of us contemplate a “fresh start” for a better life personally and professionally. Making New Year’s resolutions is often a part of starting this process. However, statistics indicate that few resolutions are still in force by the end of January. One reason for the demise of so many well intentioned goals is that it seems impossible to keep challenging resolutions for the rest of our lives. Some “experts” advocate shortening the time perspective by focusing only on keeping the resolution “just for today”. Project managers can also become overwhelmed by the thought of having to sustain efforts for the entire length of a project. Let’s look at some possibilities for applying “just for today” to common project management challenges.

Just for today. . . I will have the courage and the intestinal fortitude:

To not accept that a project has to be underfunded
I will use the relevant terms and concerns that make the project sponsor realize the true impacts of taking the lowest bid or cutting corners at every step. Sponsors may not care or even comprehend earned value analysis, dependencies or any of a number of common project management terms. However, “decreased net sales revenue”, “lack of customer confidence” and other specifically business-related phrases are more apt to grab the attention of sponsors. I will also rise to the challenge of finding creative (and legal) sources of additional funding so that the sponsor appreciates the seriousness of my budgetary concerns.

To get to the source of unrealistic completion dates
I will uncover what force is driving the project implementation date. I will also work with the client, customer and/or user to determine what really needs to be done by the target completion date. Using education regarding tradeoffs will assist in setting realistic expectations. I will remind myself that these people have probably always been told at the beginning of the project that the target date is “doable”. They don’t make the connection that an upfront “yes” is often followed by a backend “we need a little more time”.

To focus on needs not wants
I will ask questions that cause the client, customer and/or user to dig deep beyond the surface symptoms to get at the real problem or opportunity. At that point, we can all focus effectively on addressing the actual issues rather than spinning off on tangents that will hinder project performance. I will also identify relevant measures of success that are meaningful to the project sponsor.

Let’s not forget the project manager’s need for a “just for today” assessment:

Just for today . . . I will focus on the strengths that make me a good project manager. I will think about the many good things that have happened on the projects that I have managed. After all, there are always plenty of people who are willing to criticize but few who are willing to praise.

May all of your projects be successful . . . and if not, remember the upbeat thought of the “Gone With the Wind” heroine, Scarlet O’Hara, . . . “tomorrow is another

Susan Peterson, MBA, PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course in the UCSD PM Certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee. She can be contacted at

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