Adding White Space to Make Projects Succeed

Looking over another client’s project plan for a 2 year strategic initiative, I can tell two things: (1) They overpaid for the PMP Certified consultant they used to build the detailed project plan and (2) It won’t be as successful as it could be.

The reason is that this plan is buttoned up across a half dozen departments with contingencies, timelines, milestones and task durations built to 5 levels.  The governance calendar is in place for the next two years and the deliverables have been defined by the business.  But there is no room for learning.  This plan is so tight, that there will be conflict as soon as there is the least amount of learning that this uber-project manager has not foreseen in building the plan.  That is the critical role that White Space plays in a project plan.  There is nearly no way this project will follow the plan unless a determined project manager drives the team to deliver to the PLAN rather than deliver a solution that meets the business needs as more information comes to light in the next two years.

Smart project managers build time into projects to make amendments.  At the very least, the hard dates of the first year are more malleable in the project plan during the second year.  Seasoned project managers know that new information will require adjustments.  Smart ones make sure they have build a flexible plan that will accommodate improvements without requiring exhausting business and sponsor changes to modify the plan.

My experience has been that executives who are not accustomed to managing big projects are comforted when they see a multi-page project plan with seemingly great detail for months or years into the future.  Experienced executives know those plans are expensive and likely to be cast aside shortly for more accommodating plans.  Really smart executives ask for project plans that have built-in white space and know that if the time or resources are not needed, they will bring in the project early or under budget.  And THAT makes a project a success – not having a detailed plan in the beginning.

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