Project Plan Is Missing

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

The corporate executive flies you across the country to take over a project he describes to you as “troubled” during a phone call.  You arrive at the facility where the whole team is waiting for you in the boardroom.  The regional VP, a 300-pound man, gives you a bear hug and turns to the team and says, “This PM is the winner who’s going to lead us to the finish line by the end of October or die trying.”

You scan the group and see team members smirking and averting their eyes from your glance. You turn back and see the VP picking up his garment bag and briefcase saying, “Well, I’m off to tour our Southeast Asia offices. See you at Thanksgiving”

You reach for his elbow saying, “But we need to discuss the project scope and the project plan.”

The VP jerks his elbow out of your grip and bolts out the door saying, “The paperwork’s all done; look at those notebooks.”  The VP points behind you. You turn around and  see seven 4 inch thick notebooks on the table.

As you walk toward the table, a team member says, “You won’t find a project scope or a plan or a schedule in those books.  We don’t have any type of plan.”

You whirl around and race for the door.  The VP is gone and the corridor is empty with no sign of him.

A team member with a long ponytail and beard says, “Those books don’t have anything but our weekly To Do lists.  We each get a new list every Sunday night.”

You face the 19 team members in the room and say, “Without a plan, we will fail.”

The team members nod at you and each other.  Ponytail says, “Ohhh, we know that.” The team members all shake their heads in agreement.

You say, “We need to begin with the project scope.  Who started this project? Was it the VP we just saw running down the hall?

Ponytail says, “Nope. He just takes orders; he doesn’t give them. The Corporate Executives read the riot act to all the execs about our customer service. The Consumer Reports magazine kicked our butt and said we had the worst service in the industry. The guy you just met, we call him The Hippo, was the last VP standing when the music stopped. So he’s had the ‘World Class Customer Service – WCCS’ project dumped in his lap.  This year’s evaluation starts on November 1.”

You say, “So we have the project’s name. Now what do we have to do to reach the WCCS goal?”

Ponytail says,”Basically everything – systems, procedures, training, remodeling offices, hiring people, etc.   Every executive wants something they say they need for WCCS.  So The Hippo tells us, “Just add it and get it done by October 31.”

You say, “Is there any chance we’ll achieve WCCS by October 31?”

The team members all think that’s hilarious.  One yells, “October of what year?” Another shouts, “I hope my job hunting is done by then.”

The laughing abruptly stops when you say, “I’ll go see the Executive VP and get the scope defined by him.”

Ponytail says, “That’s suicide,man!  She thinks her instructions were clear but all she said was ‘WCCS  by October 31′.”

You answer, “No one gets fired for asking questions.”

“Oh yes they do. It happens here all the time,” replies a woman wearing thick glasses.

You walk out the door and look up the EVP’s office in the directory by the elevator. It is located on the top floor with a cluster of assistants’ offices. You press the elevator button and wonder if this will be your last day of employment.

The elevator doors open on an elegant oak paneled reception area that is empty except for a stylishly dressed, elderly lady at the far end of the room. She looks up at you with surprise.

You walk across the thick maroon carpet and stop in front of the lady whose name plate says, Vivianne Lane.

You introduce yourself saying,  “Hello Ms. Lane.  I’m the new project manager they flew in from the west coast for the WCCS project. I need to see the EVP so I can get started on this important project. ”

“Oh my yes,” Ms. Lane says. “It’s a very important project.”

“Then I can’t waste any time getting to work.  Is the EVP in? May I see her?”

Ms. Lane says, “It’s best not to disturb her.”

“Oh I have to, maam. Which office is hers?”

Ms. Lane raises her eyebrows and quivers with fear. She slowly raises her arm and points to the door on the right.

You walk to the door and Ms. Lane scurries for the ladies room.

You knock on the door and listen.  There’s no sound.  You grab the bronze doorknob and slowly open the door.  You hear a click followed by, “Oh damn.”

The EVP  had just missed a ten foot putt across the plush green carpet. The white ball was wide left by 5 inches. From your summers as a caddy, you know what the problem is.

You say, “Your feet were pointed to the left so the ball went that way.”

A 6 foot tall woman in her 40’s with silvery white hair is in her stocking feet; her 5″ heels are by her desk.

Looking down at her feet she says, “You’re right. Did my VPs hire a golf pro?”

“No maam, I’m the project manager for WCCS.”

Don’t call me maam. I’m not your mother or an old lady.  Call me EVeep.  I might not have that title by the end of October so I want to enjoy it for a while.”

You glance at her desk top and see a worn issue of Consumer Reports  magazine. You think for a moment and ask, “How good does the rating from Consumer Reports have to be for you to keep your EVP tile?”

“Aren’t you the quick one,” she says.  “We need to be in the top 10 this time around and in the top 3 by next year.”

You ask “Is that last year’s Consumer Reports issue with the rankings?”

She retorts, “What do you think I’d have on my desk, Seventeen magazine?”

You say, “May I borrow the copy so I can see how the ratings work? Then I’ll be back tomorrow with a high level project plan.”

“You’re going to aim the project at the performance factors Consumer Reports uses?” she asks.

“Would you rather I used Seventeen ratings?” you respond.

The EVP laughs as she hands you the magazine, “Pull this off and you’ll get the gold ring. Here’s my cell phone number. Put it on your speed dial.”

You start for the door and then turn back and say,”I am going to cut a ton of crap out of this project because I hear the VPs have added everything from their wish lists. Will you support me with them?”

She says with a smirk, “Just tell them I told you to clean out the crap and they can come see me if they don’t like it.”

You smile, open the office door and head for the elevator. You nod a thank you to Ms. Lane as you pass her desk.  You read the article on the way down.

As you walk into the boardroom, the team members all turn and look at you like you’ve been carried back by a tornado.

You smile at them and said, “We have a great project sponsor and her full support.  We now have a project scope which is: Being in the top ten of the Consumer Report rankings this next year and in the top three the year after. What we are going to do today, and into the night if necessary, is assess the five factors the magazine uses in their ranking. Then we’ll decide what deliverables we need to achieve to improve our rating. Nothing else will be in our project plan.”

Ponytail says, “The VPs will go ballistic about those cuts.”

You say “My money in on the EVP standing her ground. I think she will eat their lunch if they object.  Let’s get to work  and break down our scope into its component deliverables. We’ll start with a deliverable of ‘97% of our customers get correct information when they call Customer Service.’ Where do we stand now?”

There’s silence and then ponytail says, “We’re at 65% now.”

“How do we get to 97%?” you ask.

The woman with thick glasses speaks up, “We need more training. But we don’t have enough people to pull them off the phones to attend classes.  There’s a Human Resources hiring freeze so we can’t hire more people.  That’s also killing us on the hold time standard.  We haven’t got enough bodies in Customer Service.”

Without responding to her, you grab your cell phone, hit two speed dial keys and put it on speaker.  “Hello EVeep. The project manager here. We’re going to need more bodies in Customer Service for quality training and to reduce hold time. Can you help us get around HR’s hiring freeze?”

You all hear a dial tone and the team looks embarrassed.  Then you say, “Have faith.  How many new Phone Reps do we need?”

Ponytail says “37 new folks. We’ll have training on customer service policies for them and our current staff of 102.  We’ve already designed the course.”

You nod and your cell phone rings. You put it on speaker and listen,”This is Gladys Knight, Human Resources VP. Against my better judgement, the hiring freeze for Customer Service is lifted. What do you need from us?”

You give the team a big grin and say, “37 new reps and 5 days of training for 139 reps starting next week.  We have the course materials ready.”

“Will do,” the Human Resources VP says and hangs up.

You face the team with a big thumbs up.”Now let’s break down the other high-level deliverables for achieving our scope of: ‘A top ten Consumer Reports ranking this next year and in the top three by the following year.’ When we do that, we will have our project plan.”

Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on