If the Project Doesn't Fit, You Must Quit
One of the great things about teaching the project management elective in the MBA program at Drake is the opportunity to introduce my students to real life field work in project management. Specifically, I team my students with a local not-for-profit every year. Their job is to create a business case and a project plan/charter for their clients. My goal as a professor is to find a single not-for-profit which has multiple projects. By doing so, my students must go beyond looking at the project to which they were assigned, and also look at other teams' projects as well. In short, they learn a thing or two about managing a portfolio of projects for a given organization.
This year, we were fortunate enough to serve Hope Ministries' Bargain Center located in Pleasant Hill. We had teams reviewing every aspect of their business, from accepting donations, to retail product flow, to retail space design, and many other issues. It's a win for both the students and the organization. And selecting a not-for-profit allows the students to get a taste of the triple constraint on steroids: they never have enough resources or time, and they always have an abundance of tasks to be completed.
The challenge at the end of the class is getting all of the student teams to communicate with each other to figure out how all of the projects fit together. Invariably, each semester, there is one project which doesn't seem to "fit" with the others (insert the Sesame Street song, "One of these things is not like the others").
I like to use the Johnny Cochran approach in the O.J Trial: "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit." However, in this case, it's the project that doesn't fit with the rest of them. Saying it doesn't fit is not saying you will never do the project. It's simply saying that right now, there's a project that does not fit with the current portfolio.
So how do you make the selection to determine what "fits"? ProjectSmart, a UK-based blog, recommends having a project firing squad (OK, a little macabre on the metaphor front), but I like the idea:
- Know your current portfolio - what else are you working on and what needs your emphasis and attention right now?
- Well-defined selection process - eenie-meenie-minie-mo is not a selection process. Figure out how potential projects will be scored and weighted.
- Identify the decision-makers - don't wait until the last second to figure out who has accountability for what lives and what dies.
- Make a decision - as they so eloquently put it, "the worst decision is indecision." Don't be wishy-washy.
For the sake of academia, all projects survived (at least through the presentation). What Hope Ministries does with the project recommendations... well that's ultimately up to them... but I am very thankful they let us play in their sandbox for a semester.