Brainstorm Hour. Project Management Workshop by Nick Wilkinson


Last month, members from the digital team attended a Project Management Workshop in Vancouver. During this workshop, the Speaker, Nick Wilkinson, covered two central themes: managing projects (“stories”), and the people (“characters”) involved.

According to the Project Management Institute, projects are “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a product or service.”

However, a more accurate definition according to Doug DeCarlo, an extreme Project Manager, a project is “a complex, self-correcting venture in search of the desired results.”

This workshop simplified those definitions and narrowed it down to a core idea: projects are stories with a beginning, middle and an end. The project manager is the author of the story. The characters in the story are the people you’ll have to interact with over the course of the project, each with their own agenda.

The characters of the story or project are often organization-specific. It is always important to identify who owns the project and what everyone’s level of engagement and influence is. We also learned that it is essential to watch out for the “Anti-Project” Characters during this process:

Parachuters – People who come out of nowhere and micromanage aspects of your project, then leave.
Faux-PMs –  People who think they are the PM, from start to finish
The Haters – People who don’t think they need a PM
The Mayors – People who make promises they won’t keep

As project managers, we face many challenges. In most projects, the quality of work on a project is constrained by three interlinking elements: budget, scope (features), and deadlines. The project manager can choose between constraints; however, changes in one obstacle necessitate changes in others to compensate, or quality will suffer.

The second challenge is ambiguity. The following graphic summarizes what the client wants vs. what they need and how everyone involved in the project interprets it. The best way to remove ambiguity by asking questions. Never assume anything when things are unclear and do not be afraid to ask questions.

Lastly, the final challenge we face is expectations. You don’t want to commit to delivering less than you know is achievable but equally, you don’t want to promise more than you can realistically deliver – that’s just setting the project up for certain failure. Here is what you can do to set proper expectations.

  1. Start at the discovery phase. Get involved with managing and setting realistic expectations as soon as possible so that you can influence deadline settings.
  2. Make sure the project scope always stays clear.
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate with all stakeholders.
  4. Adjust expectations as soon as necessary.
  5. Hold productive meetings on a regular basis.

Many people are uncomfortable with the thought of a process because they think of it as “rules” they need to follow. However, without a transparent, well-understood process that the team has bought into, the project is going to fail. Processes should be more like promises; they require persuasion and buy-in, not strong-arming and demands compliance. Processes also need to be discussed with the team up front, so everyone knows what to expect ahead of time. The process needs to be reinforced throughout the project and only bend if a storm hits, not break.

At any given time of a project, the Project Manager’s role should be encompassing the following:

  • Evaluating whatever project information is on hand, including the past
  • Making sure everyone and everything is on the same page right now (managing the present)
  • Always looking out for risks and figuring out what to do about it
  • Communicating regularly and what is expected at the end of the current phase

What we learned from the workshop is simple: a commitment to the process is what’s going to make your stories turn out well. To keep project-level expectations, the Project Manager should be focused on knowing what phase they are in the project. At the end, it’s also critical to review what went right and what didn’t with the whole team after every project. Having that postmortem review with all the stakeholders including your client can assure your next story to start with a better and stronger beginning.