Slaying Dragons


    By Thomas Goebel, PMI® Houston Chapter Volunteer Content Writer

    Once Upon A Time, a discipline called Project Management was created to help sort out problems that arose during the conduct of projects.  All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men were relegated to putting the projects back together again.  All across the land, Project Management spread, and the people rejoiced.

    But dragons lurked…

    Trouble in the Kingdom

    Sooner or later (mostly sooner), all project managers encounter rough patches in the road.  While we learn from each travail, the primary objective is to reduce their frequency and even avoid them – by learning from others, for instance.

    Hiccups vary from person to person, and from project to project.  There are various lists out in cyberspace that enumerate the problems that project managers encounter.  Let’s talk about a few that really give you a case of heartburn.


    Communication Breakdown

    Almost all problems in a project can be traced back to inadequate communication, either direct or indirect.  “Undefined” goals are usually a problem stemming more from lack of articulation than actual lack of definition.  After all, the originator of the idea probably had a very clear idea of what he or she wanted to accomplish.  It’s crucial that the idea is clearly conveyed from originator to project manager and from project manager to the various stakeholders.  We use several forums for this, of course.  Meetings, especially the all-important kick-off meeting, formally codify deliverables by setting baselines and obtaining buy-in from participating stakeholders.

    Informal communication can be just as critical.  Emails to affected stakeholders, water-cooler sessions, and old-fashioned phone calls help maintain connectivity and project flow, while fostering collaboration and preventing problem escalation.


    Reining in Scope

    Project scope usually starts at a nice walk which can easily develop into a trot that’s hard to control.  To prevent scope from breaking into a full runaway gallop, the project manager has to exercise resolve in evaluating each requested change and its effect on schedule, budget, and stakeholders.  Saying “No” can be a lonely and unpopular activity.  But it is often necessary in order to avoid falling into the trap of adding time and cost incrementally to the project.

    The change management process is in place to prevent exactly these problems.  The smart project manager minimizes aggravation by acquainting himself or herself with this important tool at the start of the project.



    One of the most misunderstood activities in project management is the assessment, quantification and management of risk.  Everyone is viscerally aware of what risk is.  The challenge is in actually writing down all the risks that can be identified (definitely a team effort!) and assigning time and cost values to them.  This is the first step toward “managing” risk. 

    Most assume that risk is something to be avoided at all costs.  This isn’t always the case, though.  After tabulating all the associated risk costs, a project team may decide that a risk is worth absorbing.  This can be justified in the project plan and factored into the business case.  Transferring risk is another option.  The risk becomes a non-threat by virtue of its transfer to the customer or even third parties, when appropriate.  (Beware:  Risk transfer is a two-way street, and the project management team needs to watch for undesired/unexpected transfer of risk to their shoulders!)  Mitigation is another strategy.  Controls can be implemented to turn an unacceptable risk into one that won’t break the project.


    The Slay

    While addressing the issues discussed here won’t necessarily alleviate all of the project manager’s pain, it will go a long way toward ensuring a smoother ride for all stakeholders and a much better chance for a satisfactory realization of deliverables.  Slaying the big dragons early gives way to steady performance for the life of your project.