Plan versus Reality


The project plan in many ways is a best guess. It represents a set of actions that you believe (or hope) will result in a successful outcome. The times associated with each task are estimates of what you think will be needed, given a specific set of conditions. One key condition involves timely completion of predecessor tasks.

Given the fact that all task durations are estimates, it would be reasonable to expect that at least some of the tasks will take longer than expected. Unfortunately, you will probably not know which ones ahead of time. It is also reasonable to expect that other intervening variables (e.g., new requirements, quality problems, miscommunications, etc.) could further complicate things. Finally, it is unlikely, particularly with new project initiatives, that every necessary step will be accounted for (and in the proper sequence).

Once the plan is put together, it is up to members of the team to make it happen in spite of these formidable challenges. Specifically, it is up to each team member to manage his/her own tasks so that they contribute value to the project outcome. It is also up to each team member to test their tasks against the conditions that determine whether a task actually adds value to the plan.

Two conditions must be met for a task to be a value-added part of a plan:

  1. There must be an operational reason for the task to be there (i.e., the output of that task must be used somewhere in order for it to be considered a value-added task).
  2. The task must add value to some previous task(s) or resources (i.e., it must have one or more predecessors).

These two conditions tell us that the value of any task is connected to and dependent on the tasks that precede and follow it. As such, it is critical that tasks are connected to each other in a way that ensures value is added in a timely fashion. This is how systems thinking can be effectively applied to the execution of a project.

Succeeding In Spite of Reality

Hand-off management is the heart of any successful project. It is what turns the plan into a successful outcome, much like mortar is used to turn loose bricks into a wall. It involves connecting the people responsible for the tasks into a cohesive force that dramatically increases the likelihood that requirements and deadlines will be met. Specifically, it helps project team members to:

  • Achieve results that are clearly value added
  • Maintain a clear Customer focus
  • Develop and maintain positive relationships with peers
  • Clearly understand how their individual contributions are connected to the project

A project is a true test of our ability in each of these areas. The more people on your team that exhibit these competencies, the greater your chances for success. Building a plan is one thing; making it happen is quite another. The foundation for making it happen is having everyone on the team manage their own transactions with suppliers and Customers.

While projects are managed by project managers, hand-offs are managed by project team members. The difference between simply performing tasks and managing transactions (with internal Customers and suppliers) is what separates the successful project teams from the rest. Effective project managers are able to make this difference clear and explicit.


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