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5 Strategies for Dealing with Project Management Chaos

If you’re a Type-A personality like me, it probably drives you nuts to have an overflowing inbox, un-listened to voicemail messages,  or – worst of all – a messy project management system. It’s in our nature to try to restore order where there is disorder, to straighten where there is a mess. (Some people are comfortable with clutter, of course, but I’m pretty sure we’re two different species.)


Just like in your home, keeping your shared project management system orderly and updated is a constant chore. It makes perfect sense -- any system that we humans interact with eventually starts to get messy. 


So what can we do to maintain both the system and our sanity? Here are a few strategies to try.

1) Appeal for respect.

Sharing a project management system with your team is like sharing an apartment with roommates. If your roommates leave their dirty dishes, unopened mail, and wet towels all over the place, they’re not respecting you or your space. The same goes for not updating the shared project plan. You don’t have to demand perfection, but everyone should do their part to keep it livable for the rest of the team.  

A clear understanding of how to use the tool is the first step, combined with some easy-to-follow processes for where to put things. (As the old “a place for everything and everything in its place” saying goes.)

2) Throw it in the junk drawer.

Let’s face it. Sometimes there’s a bunch of stuff in the plan that nobody cares about anymore. Well, you might care about it someday, but for now it’s just getting in the way and bogging people down. In this case, why do today what you can put off to tomorrow?

Create a “holding bin” for those miscellaneous items and get them out of the way. If you need them you can retrieve them later. Technically, there’s still clutter behind the scenes, but it will keep things looking neat and tidy on the surface.





3) Schedule a cleaning. 

Sometimes all it takes to stay on track are regularly scheduled “maintenance windows” for your project plan. Try booking a weekly or bi-weekly 15-minute meeting on each person’s calendar for general clean-up. Maybe just once a month is enough for your team.

Even better: make yourself available to help troubleshoot during that time, so any hurdles can be overcome immediately.

Small but regular updates are relatively painless. They sure beat a panic-driven long-haul sessions when a report is due. 

4) Do it yourself.


On every team, there are one or two folks that just can’t bring themselves to update their tasks in the project plan or track their time.


Trying to convince them to participate seems like a losing battle. In those cases, getting their go-ahead to update items on their behalf is the best strategy.


If they get notified of the updates you make for them, they might see an opportunity to jump in and participate.


If you’re lucky, they’ll even catch the updating bug and take the job back from you!


5) Let go.

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. If you get 80% participation in a collaborative plan, you’re still in better shape than the teams that flounder about with a rarely-updated, centrally-managed project schedule.

Accept that attention to the project plans will come in waves, and true-ing up the plan is easier when you’ve got the whole team working towards it.


Have you used other techniques for keeping your project plans up-to-date?

How do you keep chaos at bay as a project manager? 

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Comment by Bruce Benson on February 3, 2011 at 1:55am
One of the key things that made a difference for me was being seen as the "good guy." This simply meant I wasn't going to play all the normal games (e.g., shifting blame, rationalizing, making promises we can't keep, etc.) They also knew I was, er stupid enough, to stand up and make the unpopular statement (e.g., schedule won't work, the emperor has not clothes, etc.). People trusted that if they went down, I'd be going down with them. This, somewhat unintuitively, also helped me get more cooperation for the mundane and routine things we always had to do.

Some other ideas on bringing order to chaos (and getting support for your own):
1. Support the other guys project:
2. Focus on the truly critical activities/processes (not necessarily the critical path):
3. Fix the project plan (and know what the real plan is - which may not be written down):

Comment by Walter Miner on January 26, 2011 at 4:38pm

Keeping each team member is up to date is paramount.  It is sometimes not so easy to get every team member on the same page so to speak.  Again it is "strengths & weaknesses".  While I have worked with people is the same construction office trailer on-site there seemed to be one individual was a half a step behind.  I would ask this particular person a question and 90% of the time I received the answer that made me happy!  10% of the time I heard, "Well Boss I haven't really got to it or I forgot about it and will take care of it right away". So I am now a not so happy camper. 


Very simple to correct I just used his Outlook Calendar and tasked him.  It was not long when I asked for something and heard, "I have here Boss" or "Did you look on your desk"?  I am a true believer in meeting at least twice a week to go over whatever requires review.  I will admit it usually is much more than 15 minutes, but I do understand what the author was saying.  No matter what Industry you are in good communication and organization will make you either "Sink or Swim", fact!

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