Project Management Professional (PMP)® Articles - Reality Check

Giving Your Project a Reality Check

By Christopher Scordo PMP, ITIL

When it comes to project management, no project will run perfectly. It's easy to get caught up in the bigger picture, but the smaller working parts are forever changing when it comes to projects. A client might want to do something a bit differently, a member of your team might run into unforeseen trouble, or things might simply just not go according to plan.

It’s therefore important to “reality check” your project from time to time. Realty checking doesn’t need to take a lot time or use up all your resources, in fact, the quicker the reality check – the better. A reality check should be designed to help everyone working on the project see exactly where they stand. It’s not about pointing fingers and blaming people, but reworking what needs to be changed and reshuffling priorities. If there are any issues which have been bubbling under the surface, they can be looked at and addressed.

When it comes to reality checking a project, it's vital to remember that it's not a one-time process but a step that will help refine the efficiency of your project every time you use it. Sometimes this process takes a serious meeting, other times an informal stand up meeting will work just fine.

There are three important questions which will help project managers with a reality check. They are:

Has the Scope of the Project Changed? All projects go through changes and small requirements are often tweaked as things progress. Scope here means work needed to deliver the end product. Let's use an example; if the original project specified a software program which allows team members to log time on different work tasks and has changed to something which also allows clients to see how the team members are interacting with each other via chat logs, then the scope has changed.

The reason for the change might be a good and valid reason, but you need to face the reality that you might need additional resources and additional time to make the project work. This doesn't need to be a blame game, it's simply acknowledging that things have changed slightly and then reworking it to accommodate those changes.

Does the Project have Sufficient Team Resources to Meet Deadlines? Being overworked and burning out is a major hazard, specifically when it comes to software projects. If you're on a tight deadline, there's rarely time to get new people up to speed. Even with management vehemently committed, team members might still feel like they can’t cope with the amount of work and become overwhelmed by the impending deadline.

Instead of leaving your team quietly worrying, reality checks allow for re-scheduling if completing the work within the deadline is absolutely not feasible. The goals set by the project manager or the stakeholders are important but, it's all down to those actually doing the work. If the team is constantly worried about finishing their assigned tasks on time, and over time becomes the norm, something's gotta give.

Is the Project Budget Still on Target? One of the worst things that could happen to a project manager is coming to the end of a project and realizing you have miscalculated the budget. As a project manager, it’s your responsible to continuously forecast and maintain the funds allocated to your project. Finding additional funds to cover costs, whether that means renegotiating with a client, should be done immediately as needed. Budgeting in advance for unexpected costs will also determine whether you can bring in additional resources to help you get your project back on track. Typical projects budget in a 10-20% budget “buffer” when providing initial estimates.

Giving your project a reality check is vital not just for you as a project manager, but also for the health and effectiveness of your team. As so often mentioned, how your team is coping is crucial to how well your project gets done and whether your clients are happy in the end. Never underestimate the role constant communication plays – talk to your team and to all those involved in the project as often as you can, this will go a long way to ensure everybody is happy in the end.