A Smaller Stream That Flows Into A Larger Stream Draining the Project Management Swamp: The Second Mistake

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Draining the Project Management Swamp: The Second Mistake

This article is a follow-up to the article titled “Draining the Project Management Swamp: The First Mistake”.

In a previous article, I discussed the way I tried to drain the swamp that was spreading around my cabin. My mistake was that I focused on the outlet of the swamp, ignoring the inlet where the water was spreading in many directions. I relate it to project management and how trying to eliminate large amounts of work from the start isn’t always the best move. A project may appear on schedule, when in reality, the project is simply stalled. In this article, I will discuss another mistake I made – focusing on the inlet.

Water coming through the fence line into the cabin property had no path and was running all over the place. Focusing on the inlet, I dug a trench to direct the inflow of water to the original stream bed. After a few hours it was proven. However, when I walked downstream, the outlet I had carved was exhausted and the area around the cabin was more flooded than before. In the inlet, my digging had disturbed the soil, allowing enormous amounts of silt, sticks and pine needles to accumulate at every bend and eddy, filling the stream bed with debris that eventually blocked all water at the outlet.

In project management, focusing on the “inlet” of work can “swamp” the team. This often happens with project managers who get ahead of themselves, who have a high probability of unplanned projects. When a project manager focuses on small things that are irrelevant to the primary goals of the project, such as gear swag, company parties, and pay bonuses. Everyone is probably guilty of this in some way. In fact this is a problem I often face. Once while tackling a small project at a retail store, I was convinced before I even started work that I would double the amount I was asked for. So, I worked hard and fast, but I was soon overwhelmed. Pushing the comfort zone is certainly good, but sometimes the work is already pressed enough.

After trying both the inlet and outlet of the swamp, I failed and the ground was so wet that the deck of my cabin was crumbling. After further efforts, I discovered that the only way to drain the swamp was to slowly dig trenches along the course of the original stream, digging only small pieces at a time. It was more about retracing the flow path than cutting large chunks out of the inlet and outlet. By doing this, the water was thrown in a single path and I could actually direct the flow in such a way that the movement of the water would naturally help to carve the trench deeper and build up the debris.

Similarly, in project management, the methods used should be effective in nature, which moves the project at its own pace. Focusing on the inlet and outlet of a project can be highly counterproductive and provide misleading information about the status of the project. As with the work on the swamp outlet where I thought I had everything removed, an inappropriate method or tool (or an inappropriate project manager) can appear to be the end of the project. And, like the work on the swamp inlet, where I thought I channeled the flow, inefficient project management methods and tools can make it look like the project is going as planned. In reality, all the labor between the outlet and the inlet is only keeping the project and its team members “swamped”.

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