I’d like to forget my first project and my blunders. Like most people I got started managing projects by having one dumped in my lap like a dead flounder. My boss said, “Pat really screwed up the supply room project! I want you to take over and fix it. Do whatever you have to and get this thing done by the end of June!” Although I made many blunders, as you’ll see below, the worst one was saying, “Okay, boss you got it!”
My First Project and Lesson #1: I Assumed the Boss Gave Me Some Authority
The boss did say “Do whatever you have to and get the project done by June 30.” So It went to the next cubicle where Jack, a buddy of mine, worked. I knew he was on the supply room project because he’d been complaining about it for months.
I greeted him with, “Hey, Jack . The boss just dumped the supply room project in my lap. How you are doing on it?”
Jack put his hands up covering his face like a boxer doing the rope-a-dope and said, “I have nothing to do with the supply room project. I don’t know what’s going on with it but if I were you, I’d run as far from it as I could. Now please get out of my cubicle before someone sees me talking to you. Don’t forget what happened to Ralph, your predecessor on that project. He’s been demoted to the loading dock where he’s checking in shipments now.”
“You’re only kidding, right?” I asked.
Jack replied, “That project is the black plague. I’d call in sick for the next month if I were you.”
“Come on, Jack,” I chuckled nervously. “The two of us can straighten out that mess. Then we’ll be real heroes.”
Jack looked at me like I was insane and scurried out of his cubicle like a rodent.
Stunned, I left Jack’s cubicle and noticed I was already a marked man. Everyone in the department was looking at me, then turning away and whispering to their neighbors in frightened tones. My first project wasn’t winning me any allies.
I was wrong to assume I had any authority. How was I supposed to get things done? Who was I supposed to assign work to? I decided to go to the boss’s office and find out who was on my project team and how I was to get them to do some of the work. At the moment, no one would speak to me.
I entered the boss’s office and he waved me in and pointed to a chair while finishing his phone conversation. When he hung up, I said “I’m a little unclear about the supply room project you assigned me. Who is working on it? Who is on my project team and what are we supposed to do?
The boss leaned back in his chair and said, “You’re supposed to clean up the supply room by June 30. What’s so hard about that?” “Take anybody you want for the project team. Tell them I said you’re the boss of the supply room project and can pick your team. If they don’t like it, send them to see me!”
I gave the boss the thumbs-up signal and left his office. I saw Gloria, a colleague I had coffee with three times a week. Walking into her cubicle I said, “I’m managing this supply room project…”
Gloria interrupted, “You poor sap, and you have a wife and kids. There’s no way I’m getting on that Titanic of a project. I’ve got six weeks of work to do in the next month. If the boss wants to give all of it to somebody else, I’d be happy to join you. What is the point of that project anyway?”
I answered, “It’s real simple – we’re to clean up the supply room.”
“Really? Do you know how this project got started?” Gloria asked.
The boss got blasted at the last executives’ retreat about the supply room always running out of stuff and wasting people’s time. It’s also wasting too much money by ordering the wrong stuff. His butt is on the line. So don’t think for a minute that you can go in there with your little whisk broom and clean up the supply room. You’ve got to put an inventory and ordering system in place and find out what office supplies people need to have in there. You’re never going to satisfy everybody. You’ll be down there with Ralph on the loading dock checking in shipments. The only difference will be everybody will hate you, where everyone thinks Ralph is just a loser.”
I went back to my cubicle realizing that I’d made another blunder.
My First Project and Lesson #2: I Didn’t Know the Project’s Goal
What a dope I had been to walk out of the boss’s office after he told me to clean up the supply room by June 30. I didn’t ask a single question about what he meant by that but I had agreed to do it.
My thoughts were interrupted by an angry middle-aged man in a beautifully cut pinstripe suit barging into my cubicle. I vaguely recognized him from the last company meeting. He had been sitting up front on the dais. I smiled pleasantly and asked, “How may I help you?”
“First of all,” he said, “wipe that silly grin off your face. This is a damn disaster. I have got 50 people on the 12th floor out of work because the supply room can give them the PCs, computer cables, printers and software they need. Those people are the cutting edge of my marketing department’s big product launch for this year and you are killing us.”
I had trouble swallowing and then said, “Sir, I was assigned as project manager of the supply room project 30 minutes ago. I am not the manager of the supply room.”
The executive slouched down into my office chair and put his face in his hands. He said, “We are both screwed. The supply room supervisor and his whole staff quit this morning. I may been a little harsh with them. ”
I knew I’d regret saying anything but the words just came out of my mouth, “Sir, I prefer to get fired for doing something rather than just sitting here. So let’s fix the problem. First, who in your marketing division can I talk to about what equipment they need? Second, I will order that stuff and have it delivered today, even though we’ll have to pay more for that kind of service. Will you authorize the expense? Third, can you light a fire under Human Resources to hire replacements for the supply room manager and staff?”
The executive thought for just a nano-second and said, “Yes. Linda Wellington on the 11th floor can tell you what equipment they need. On the supply room manager position, I’ve got a really sharp assistant who deserves an opportunity. Let’s let her be the manager.”
I nodded and he said, “Why are you still sitting here?
The saga of my first project will continue with more blunders and catastrophes.
I wish I had gotten some help from experienced project managers, like the woman in the following video. She was wise enough to ask for help as she started her first project.
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