Do You Have the Greatest Project Management Ability?
By Dr. James T. Brown
PMP, President of SEBA® Solutions, Inc.
The ability to anticipate is by far the greatest project management ability. Anticipation is an ability that is a culmination of knowledge, experience and skill. The ability to anticipate is not only what separates great project managers from good project managers; it is what separates great from good in most professions. The best hitters in baseball have the ability to anticipate what kind of pitch will be thrown to them and where the ball will be whhen it is time to swing the bat. The best soccer goalies have the ability to anticipate where the ball will be kicked so they can block it. This really comes into play during penalty kicks and this ability to anticipate will determine the goalies success or failure.
What the baseball batter and the soccer goalie have in common is that they cannot be successful trying to cover every possible outcome. The batter cannot possible hit the ball with power and control trying to protect the entire strike zone. He has to limit the strike zone to maximize the chances of getting a hit. The goalie cannot possibly guard the entire net. He has to determine what part of the net he will defend and what part will be left unprotected. The batter and goalie that can most effectively anticipate and plan their response to the future circumstances get the best results. This is also true of project managers.
The challenge of project management is so daunting that the project manager’s ability to anticipate and plan has a direct correlation on their ability to execute. A lot of project management books will state that everything needs to be planned in detail and every risk needs to be covered with a risk plan. This is good in theory and for a very small percentage of projects it is good in practice. However, most project managers live in a world characterized by uncertainty. Uncertain requirements, resources, risks, etc. The role of the project manager is to minimize or eliminate this uncertainty, but it is rare when uncertainty doesn’t exist at significant levels. Therefore the best project managers anticipate. They are able to visualize and plan through the fog. They make aggressive decisions based on what they anticipate. The average and poor performing project manager waits on the fog to clear. They complain or whine constantly about the uncertainty and it becomes an excuse for inaction.
The great project managers anticipate then act. The great baseball hitters sometimes swing and miss wildly. The great soccer goalie sometimes leaps to the wrong end of the net. They make mistakes just like the great performing project manager will make mistakes. To anticipate and act means that you will occasionally make mistakes. Over the course of a project, program or career these mistakes will be small compared to the number of good decisions that were made due to excellent anticipation. The successful project manager is a continual learner, not afraid to make decisions based on what they know to be true and what they anticipate to be true. In part 2 of this article I will talk about how to develop the skill of anticipation.
Copyright SEBA® Solutions, Inc. 2007