Ready! Fire! Aim!
While researching my last book, I received a lot of handgun safety training from one of the officers with whom I worked. Surprisingly, for somebody with little history of eye-hand coordination, I was frighteningly adept with a firearm. (Yeah, I know... project managers and live ammo... kind of makes you want to shudder, doesn't it?)
It's an interesting and exhilarating experience to shoot a gun, and there's a lot that goes into an accurate shot. The obvious ones are stance and aim. There are numerous stances one can employ while shooting a gun, and it's important to choose one appropriate for you. Aim is another critical piece. The "sights" on your gun allow you to line up your shot quickly and accurately, but you must know how to use them, and where to focus your vision. Still, there was a third element I wasn't aware of until I went through training: breathing. My instructor taught me to shoot while half-way through my exhale. At this point, I would be most relaxed AND focused due to oxygen flow.
Now here's the tricky part: all three of these things (stance, aim, breathing) should be in perfect alignment before you pull the trigger to get off the best shot. In a controlled environment, you have all the time in the world to prepare yourself. If you're in a volatile situation, you may only have a split second to get off the shot to protect yourself or a loved one.
Project management works like shooting a gun in many ways. Sometimes, tasks can only be completed when other things are in perfect alignment. I was recently on a project where we realized that not everything was in alignment when we proverbially pulled the trigger. (It figures that a Microsoft product would be the bane of our existence.) If you have a project plan in place, you at least have somewhat of a controlled environment in which to pull the trigger (we did on our project, so we had some contingency to make course corrections before we pulled the trigger a second time to hit our bullseye).
The Expert Program Management blog had a useful post on dependency mapping, which is a great Gantt-Chart based visual tool to see where things have to come together. Denis, the author, states that there are some key benefits to using this tool:
- It allows you to ensure the complex network of project interdependencies is coordinated and synchronised.
- It allows you to track that work packages produced by the different project teams are integrated.
Often, knowing what tasks come before or after other tasks is intuitively obvious and easy; other times, not so much. Spending time having these discussions during the planning phase, thereby mentally stepping through your project before executing it, is a benefit beyond words. Not doing so sets you up to "Ready! Fire! Aim!" (Not a good sequence.)
So the next time you need to pull the trigger on starting your project tasks, ask yourself if you've thought through all of the components needed to make it a successful shot.