Anders Steen Thoresen

Si vis pacem, para bellum

If you want peace, then be prepared for war. An expression that I have been fascinated by since I heard it in the movie The Punisher. In that particular film, they probably meant actual war, but the message is still very real and can be applied to everything you do in life.

The sentence can be interpreted in many ways, but if you think about it more generally, the message is that you have to plan for the worst, if you expect the best to happen.

This is a very important way of thinking in my work as a project manager, if you expect a project to go smoothly, you must have thought of everything that can go wrong, and have a plan for how to handle it when it arises. Much of this is based on experience and general competence in what you do, which gives you the opportunity and tools to handle war when it arises. But one must always have a good plan that covers the worst case scenario.

An important part of being able to plan well for war is not to spread your resources too thin. To put it another way, one does not expect the person plotting targets on the map to be the same person running in front with a rifle in one hand and a first aid kit in the other, while driving a truck and flying a fighter jet.

The specialists should be allowed to do what they are good at, it will make them better equipped to focus on their job and do it well. Should they need map coordinates, transport or emergency medical help, they know who to call, rather than having to patch themselves up while shooting with one hand and maneuvering the fighter jet with the other.

As a project manager, or a good manager in general, it is important to have some insight and understanding of all the roles and how they affect a common goal, whether it is to win the war or complete the project sucessfully. One must be careful not to end up giving individuals too many roles, then one is suddenly no longer dependent on the role, but the person behind. A role can be filled by several, an individual is unique and far more difficult to replace at short notice.

Not all organizations have enough employees to be able to have very specific roles, but it is important to have an plan from the get go on how to handle it when it happens. Throughout my career, I have been part of companies where we started out with very few employees, but over time have grown into relatively large organizations. And the common denominator for these has been that you get used to “well, it always works out”. You become dependent on good employees giving a little extra for things to work out. You become dependent on people who fill several roles, not the roles themselves.

Over time, this will have several consequences. One of these is that you wear out the employees, not only because they are overworked by, among other things, doing work that they may not have originally been hired to do, but it also forces the employees to take shortcuts and leave out things thats not necessary to complete the task. For example, things like doing documentation of what is being produced or following the GDPR or other legal guidelines properly.

Another consequence is that a lack of plans and good routines early on will have a major impact on deliveries over time, not only on how they are delivered, but also the process of getting there. If you rely on things always working out, then each person will find their own way of working, and a methodology that works, for them. It is not a big problem when you are few, but will have big consequences when you expand and become more.

My advice is to find a common work methodology and routine that you follow early on, this should not be written in stone, but should be a common thread in what you do. That way, it is easier to take people in and out of roles when needed and customers know what to expect from the role they are dealing with, regardless of the person filling it. Should there be war and resources goes missing, it is easier for others to step into the roles in question.

Another important thing to tackle early on is to think like you often do in automation projects, what tasks do we often do over and over again, which steals time from what is important? How can we refine the roles and make sure that they get to do what they are good at?

An example of such tasks, in most industries that deal with B2B, this often starts with handling 1st line inquiries, simple questions, error reporting and other customer contact. This can be easily handled by having agreements with customers that cover support and maintenance of their solutions or products, this then covers the costs of having a person who responds to these types of inquiries and forwards within the team if necessary. Customers feel taken care of and they get a quick response. Key people elsewhere in the organization are allowed to cultivate their roles without noise from an ever-increasing customer base.

To put it another way, if you send the infantry towards the right flank so that they distract the enemy, it is far easier for the specialist to occupy the base unseen from the other side. Overall, the result is the same, but the goal is reached easier and faster.

As a conclusion; It’s great to work with capable, driven people that are willing and able to go the extra mile and do whats needed to get the job done, but its not ideal to rely completely on them, you need a good plan aswell, a contingency plan of what could happen if those people aren’t available.

Things doesn’t allways work out, thats just the nature of things. Make sure you are prepared when they don’t.

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