The Detective's Notebook
It is nice to be back to posting. Between traveling, projects, and not feeling well, I have had precious little time. I love a good detective story. Every once in a while, I will find myself reading or watching an old Poirot or Sherlock Holmes story. Do you know what makes them such good detectives and everyone else an "amateur"? They weed out fact from noise. And they test their theories to make sure they truly fit the facts.
Of course, I thought of how this could be applied as a tool for project managers (wouldn't you?). How many times have you jumped to a conclusion and later realized it was based on incomplete or erroneous information? I sure have. I have heard "I'll have that critical task done this afternoon" and believed it because I really, really, really, really wanted that task done this afternoon.
I would suggest two "tools" to help separate fact from fiction:
Project managers should constantly ask questions. I used to worry about annoying people, but that's the job. I certainly don't want to go overboard, but I need to ask questions until I have uncovered the facts. For example, "what do you have left to do to finish this task?", "what else is on your plate?", "what problems have you run into?", or "what have you accomplished already?". If you have a teenager working on a school project, I have found similarities. "This will only take me a few minutes to finish" is a common refrain when in reality the most difficult part of the project has not yet been started. I applaud optimism, but unrealistic optimism is detrimental to projects. So don't be afraid to ask questions.
The Detective's Notebook
A project manager should have a "detective's notebook" when trying to deduce the situation or status. Perhaps this is really a little black book, or perhaps it is a spreadsheet. It is a "fact book". At the top it may say "FACTS ONLY". Only verified facts go in this book. That will force you to be sure that you are dealing with facts. You cannot write that "Joe will have this done this afternoon". That is not a fact, but a presumption. You can write that "Joe has finished x,y, and z; he still has to do a, b, and c; a, b, and c are more difficult; and Joe also has this other task he has to complete." Those are facts. Now you can form a theory that really fits the facts, and not what you want to be true.
These are forms of risk management (you can't know your risks if you don't know the true state of affairs). Let's see if we can't play a little Poirot or Holmes and stop getting blindsided by information that we should have uncovered in the first place in our project management practices.