A Project Manager’s Perspective: When you can’t see where you’re going and how far have you come

By Heike Peters | October 11, 2018

A project manager’s perspective: when you can’t see where you’re going and how far have you come

I recently had the privilege to take two weeks off and go hiking in the mountains of Northern Italy. It has been a passion of mine since childhood since my parents and grandparents also loved to go there.

Some of the hikes I go on by myself, but on some, I am going with a local guide and other hikers, especially when the terrain is unfamiliar or the hike technically more challenging.

On one of those hikes, I had an interesting experience. I grew increasingly frustrated. We had hiked for quite a long time already, steadily walking uphill and we simply could not see where we were going. Don’t get me wrong, it was still enjoyable, we were led by an experienced guide, it was a pleasant day and a nice group of people, but I did not see where we were going, supposedly to a hut (Refugio Fratelli Fonda Savio).

Hiking Project Management

Switchback after switchback and it somehow all looked the same. Beautiful but the same.

Then finally after what felt like an eternity there, we caught a glimpse of the hut we were headed to:

Hiking Project Management

Just a tiny spot at first, and still a ways away, but finally a goal, a destination. And at that point, the view back was also quite impressive. We could see just how far we had come by now, way down there in the valley where we left the car. It felt like quite an accomplishment.

Hiking Project Management

The frustration was gone. So what changed?

The landscape, natural beauty, the people, the experienced guide, none of that changed. What changed was the perspective! Seeing clearly where we were going, and where we were coming from, and thus we saw what we had achieved so far.

While I did not think an awful lot about work while I was on vacation (just being honest here) I could not help but wonder about the analogy to project management.

On long-running projects that require a team of people to stay engaged for a while, it is of crucial importance that we as Project Managers and Project Sponsors keep highlighting to all involved where we are going, and what we have accomplished to-date.

Whether that is in project team meetings, status reports, stand-ups, newsletters, etc. every opportunity we have needs to be used to highlight:

  • What is the ultimate goal or target
  • What is the next interims milestone or destination
  • How long or far until we get there
  • How far along is our current destination compared to the overall journey
  • How much have we already achieved

If frustration can grow for a lack of data points or perspective in a beautiful landscape like the above, it grows even faster in the petri dish of a “war room” or cubicle environment.

Communication does not always have to be polished and lengthy, it just needs to be meaningful. If I know that we have completed 60% of configuration or development, and are on track to start the testing phase on October 1, and the goal is a December go-live that replaces an unsupported legacy system: I know how much we have done, what is next and why we are doing it. Important reminders and meaningful to each contributing role on the project team.

And now back to the project journey you are on!

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