One of the first rules of project management is to start with a plan. It's generally accepted that the better the plan, the easier life will be in the thick of the project. Project managers know that short-cutting that phase spells certain trouble down the road.
It is also known, however, that even the best plans are still vulnerable to mishaps, changeups, and unconsidered details or risks. Many of these issues are small enough to handle as they surface and become the topic for the "lunch and learn" the following month. Some are more significant and throw the project into a situation that calls for an effort of re-planning. It already sounds laborious and expensive, but the project can't move forward without it.
Here are a few ways to do it successfully:
Consider the root cause or causes – There is seldom one pointed reason why a project falls off course. Usually an issue develops into the proverbial black hole that pulls everything along with it so that by the time the real examination comes, it's impossible to determine what happened and when. This is why good documentation is essential. This exercise isn't encouraged to find a scapegoat or wriggle out of responsibility – it's to find the point from which you start to re-plan so you can salvage as much of the original ideas and work as possible. One important point to make at this juncture: Be ready to uncover that maybe your team made the mistake.
Consider all the elements – Impacts from re-planning spread out in many directions, so be sure you don't leave anything overlooked, especially if that is what put you in this position in the first place. Certainly there are effects on time and money, but the scope is likely changed and there are possibly new risks and new team members involved. There are also the understated impacts on morale and client relations. Even if the client is driving all the changes that necessitate this re-planning, you can help them out greatly by making sure everything is communicated effectively and the schedule and costs make sense. It isn't always a negative situation that caused this to take place – perhaps additional funding was found, approvals finally came through, or a better solution and design was developed. In either case, think all the way around the new plan.
Consider all the communication needed – The most essential ingredient tying it all together is communication – what is said and to whom. This is no time to sugarcoat the story if mistakes have been made or to shortcut information to save time. People read emails in a hurry and are prone to miss the details or essence of the message, so keep the memo succinct, hold a meeting, or emphasize the importance of reading it thoroughly. Transparency goes a long way in keeping the client confident that everything is on track or soon will be rectified. At this point, hiding anything is purely unwise.
The planning phase takes a lot of physical and mental energy and most people, including the project manager, are quite happy when they move out of it and into the actual work. Having to retrace steps and redo this portion, no matter what caused it, doesn't exactly ignite excitement in the minds of many. However, as project manager, you may find yourself responsible for a scenario like this and you'll have to manage others through it. Keeping the above pointers in mind should help that not-always-so-pleasant task flow much more smoothly.
Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite specializing in business planning and project management best practices. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.