The Big Risk IT Pros Never Account for in their Project Planning Process—And How to Disarm it Today

The Big Risk IT Pros Never Account for in their Project Planning ProcessHow many times did you experience this in 2014:

You lacked the key information you needed to make a decision.

Or how about this one:

You finished all your tasks on time, but your project was delayed because your stakeholder took three weeks to signoff instead of the one day you gave him.

And what about this:

You went two months without face-time with your stakeholder, and you didn’t know if your work priorities were even relevant anymore.

Any of these hit close to home?

If You Feel On Your Own, You’re Not Alone

In a recent survey we ran, IT pros cited lacking access, information or attention as one of the top three reasons they couldn’t get their work done.

Clearly this is a big, common problem in IT.

However, the solution to this problem doesn’t always come easy…

  • Make a decision without the information you need?
    Sure, and dramatically increase the chances of making the wrong decision.
  • Put your important project on the back burner until your manager finally comes to you to approve it?
    You’ll just get blamed when the project falls behind schedule.
  • Keep your head down and just do what’s in front of you without checking in?
    Might work… but you might waste months of effort and fall behind on what really matters.

Or, the big one…

  • Try to schedule the meetings you need at the last minute…
    Only to find your stakeholders are too busy to help you in time.

As an IT pro you know this in your bones. The more you try to deal with issues of access and approval at the last minute, the less likely they’ll be successfully resolved.

But guess what? The inverse is true as well. The further in advance you try to address your needs of access and approval, the more likely you will get those needs met.

Most of the Time When You’re Held Up By Someone Else,
It’s a Planning Problem

As an IT pro, no one can accuse you of a lack of planning. Mapping resources, budgets and dependencies to projects comes second nature to you. For every project that falls in your lap, you perform your due diligence, figure out the project’s risks and diffuse those technical land-mines before they have the chance to go off.

But in that planning process, how often do you sit down to figure out the project’s human risks that lie outside your control, like delayed approval?

Today, let’s take a little time to think through those risks and build them into your project planning.


Step 1: Look at your projects and determine their external needs

-Take out your list of projects from your Annual Planning Process.

-(If you don’t have this, make a quick list of your projects and priorities for 2015.)

-Put this list of projects to your left, where you can see it.

-Take out a pen and a few sheets of paper.

-On the top of the sheet, write the name of the first project you are contributing to.

-Below the project name, list everything you will need from others to complete the process. These needs might include a signoff review, an informational meeting, a half hour of user testing—whatever the need is, write it down.

-Now, for the first need, ask: “Who can I get this from?”

-Put their name next to the need.

-Then, for the same need, ask: “When do I need to get it by?”

-Put this date next to their name.

-You now have one clear project need, who can give it to you, and when you need to get it by.

-Go down your whole list of needs, asking these questions and providing these answers.

-Finished? You now have a concrete map of your external needs for this project.

-Follow this procedure for each project and operational area you will contribute to in 2015.

-Taking this step alone will set you on the right track for staying on top of your external needs for 2015…

-But if you take this process just one step further, you can greatly increase the chances you will acquire these needs on time.

Step 2: Schedule every meeting you need for the year now

-Open your online calendar.

-Take out one of your pages of project needs.

-Look at the first need on the list and see when you need it by, and who can give it to you.

-Create a meeting for that project need, and invite the person who can give it to you. In the meeting invitation, include a one-line summary of what you will need from them for the project. (It doesn’t matter if this meeting is 7 months in the future—schedule it now.)

-Now go through every project need and schedule the necessary meeting to acquire it, with the person who can give it to you, when you have to acquire it by—no matter how far into the future this need might be.

-Some of these will be one-off meetings. You require signoff on a module you developed by March 25th, so you schedule a review and signoff meeting with your stakeholder for March 23rd.

-Some of these will be reoccurring meetings. You have to review operational metrics once a month, so you set aside a half hour for you and your manager during the afternoon of the last Thursday of every month.

-Whatever your needs, schedule them all. Now.

Do I really have to schedule my October meetings today?!

In short—of course not. If you only have priorities set through June, then only put your Q2 needs in the calendar. If you know all your year’s needs but you only feel comfortable scheduling all these necessary meetings a quarter at a time, then just go ahead and schedule for Q1 or Q2, and then schedule your next round of needs in a month or two.

As long as you’ve blocked off a few months of your needs ahead of schedule, you’ll be ok. But know this— the more visibility and forewarning you give your stakeholders about your needs, the greater the chance you will actually get those needs met.

The exact dates and times of these meetings might change. The importance for certain meetings might fade. That’s ok. Just schedule them now.

With just a couple hours this week, you can make sure your 2015 doesn’t unfold with the “hurry up and wait” mentality that road-blocks so many IT pros.

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