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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Why the Hell Project Management Should Be Different During Recession?

News of the day! We have recession out there! Scary. What to do? What should we do?

If you browse the internet to look for some advices you’ll probably end up with vague feeling you should work better and achieve way more than you used to. Of course you should expect your budget being cut and atmosphere in the team being undermined too. Well, it looks like we’re having superheroes times.

There’s something I don’t get. Running an understaffed project isn’t a new thing for many project managers. We’re familiar with unstable requirements and scope creep too. Actually that’s bread and butter of people running software projects. Where’s the difference then?

Yes, these days above problems are more frequent than they used to be, but shouldn’t that be just a change in a risk management log? After all techniques you use to deal with them aren’t aligned with the condition of the world’s economy. Or are they? We’re talking about team management and software project management techniques. These two haven’t been altered by the recession as far as I know.

My advice for people managing projects is: just keep up the good work.

Forget about all that “work harder and smarter” or “proactive looking for inefficiency.” That’s bullshit. And if you needed recession to focus on your customers or to check relevancy of your project, well, you should think why it wasn’t so important for you a year ago. And better have a good answer.

Yes, the security of our jobs has changed, so has competition, but our everyday routines should remain the same.

in: project management

14 comments… add one

  • Paul Marculescu February 9, 2009, 7:04 am

    Good point.
    I find these kind of remarks at least hilarious: “work harder and smarter”.
    Like saying: “oh, ok, so up till now we were doing stuff in a dumb mode, but now we should work smarter”

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 9, 2009, 7:13 am

    It can sound funny but you’ll find a lot of this kind of advices. After a while you start thinking – am I doing something wrong? Personally I come to a conclusion there’s a lot to do to improve quite poor success ratio of project we run and that’s a lot more important than lamenting over recession.

  • Mike Ramm February 9, 2009, 9:28 am

    Definitely agree.
    You cannot work “smarter”, you always work at the level of your current mental abilities.

    I would only say: Take more time to think. People just don’t think enough.

  • Chris February 9, 2009, 8:02 pm

    Mike,

    Great point about people not taking the time to think at work. Reaction mode usually leads to making things a lot worse.

    Pawel,

    I definitely agree with your sentiments and have asked the LouisvillePM community if their lives at work have changed, due to the current economic climate.

    -chris

  • theproductivityhabit February 10, 2009, 1:11 am

    Excellect post! Exceptional PM’s have little to fear.

    It’s business as usual!

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 10, 2009, 2:34 am

    Chris,
    I don’t deny things changed – it’s more diffucult to change a job and security of many positions has been devreased significantly. Our lives can be changed since if you feel less secure you’re less likely to undertake big investments etc. However I don’t see how our everyday job should be altered because of recession.

  • Trevor Roberts February 10, 2009, 6:39 am

    Pawel,

    I agree… mostly. A lot of what we do day to day shouldn’t change, but I think project managers should take the opportunity of demonstrating again why what we do is useful.

    Because economic times are tough, we need to show how good project management helps not only a project, but the business as a whole. I’ve talked about this some more in When The Going Gets Tough on my blog.

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 10, 2009, 6:53 am

    That’s the thing I don’t agree with. How a project manager can help a business as a whole? She can do her best managing projects. I’m yet to see a project manager who has nothing to improve in that area.

    Now, what a project manager should do if there was no recession? Well, she should do her best managing projects I guess. Where’s the difference then?

    People who see direct impact of recession on their work sit e.g. in finance department. Salespeople do see effects of recession on their work. Executives do too. But project managers, developers or quality engineers don’t.

    When they think about changing a job, yes, things are different but it’s not a part of their everyday routines, is it?

  • Trevor Roberts February 10, 2009, 9:31 am

    Pawel,

    I have to disagree. A project manager certainly can help the business as a whole. Yes, by managing projects as best they can – but to do that, they have to be aware of, and reacting to, the environment the business is working in.

    For example, being aware of the recession, and the lack of credit for businesses, means a project manager can understand the increased importance of cash-flow to the business, of getting something to market quickly. They can then make suggestions of what features can be dropped to get a product out the door quickly – so it can start generating cash.

    A project manager shouldn’t just carry on blithely unaware of the conditions the company is working in. A project should continually be forced to check it is still going to deliver value to the business. A project manager should help in doing that. Yes, this should be something they already do, but the parameters and the conditions change because of the external environment. So a recession really should lead to project managers doing some things differently.

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 10, 2009, 10:41 am

    Trevor,

    On a general level I agree with you on things project managers should do. However I don’t see why PM shouldn’t exercise these activities when there are prosperity times.

    Let’s consider for a moment there’s no recession at all.

    Now, is cash flow any less important? A couple of years ago I worked in a company which was facing some problems with cash flow and as a person responsible (among others) for project management I was aware how it affected our work. Project managers were aware too. Actually it was all a part of our plans – we squeezed our deadlines by ourselves to generate income as soon as possible. Where’s the difference?

    Another thing, a project manager who doesn’t care about business perspective of work he performs is a poor project manager for me. If he consider his tasks to be limited to creating mpp files and doing status meetings, well, he’s barely a project administrator (and a poor one if you ask me). I always expect PMs will understand why they’re doing their work and will be able to adjust whenever external environment changes.

    And yes, recession can influence external environment but leaving a reason of change aside project managers should act as they used to. I’m yet to see an activity which should be done differently or additionally because of recession.

  • Jeff Edwards February 10, 2009, 8:06 pm

    I have come up against a similar situation prior to this recession. I was once deposed by a lawyer because a client brought a lawsuit against a former employer. As one of several project managers, I was asked to answer seven hours worth of questions. Pawel’s posting reminded me of this particular exchange:

    Lawyer: Did the client tell you that its business would fail if your project failed?

    Me: No.

    Lawyer: If you were told about the potential business failure, how would have changed the way you managed the project when you were in charge?

    Me: This news would not have made any difference.

    The attorney couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t have managed differently had I know the client’s business might fail. I see Pawel’s point – we manage for project success, whether there is a recession, a potential business failure, or any other type of impending doom.

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 11, 2009, 12:35 am

    Jeff,

    That’s a vivid example of what I was trying to say. Companies fail not only during recession. We faced similar problems before although it wasn’t so frequent.

    Personally I remember a project which was labeled “the company will be closed if you fail since forfeits would kill up” and my advise was to give up the tender since the risk was too high and our product way too immature.

    I don’t see what would we do differently knowing the fact it “to be or not to be” for the company. Either way it would be the top priority project and we’d use any means which would bring us to an end.

    Fortunately we didn’t win the deal. One of big players screwed it after all – they had 300% time overrun and weren’t able to cover all the requirements. By the way I don’t believe they’d work differently if it was during recession.

  • Stephanie Owen February 25, 2009, 4:01 pm

    I agree to some extent that a PM’s responsibility is to deliver the project – rain, hail or shine, and the recession hasn’t changed that. And “working smarter” exhortations are so vague as to be meaningless. I’d rather think that in a recession, “working smarter” would mean, for example:
    – having robust discussions with the project sponsor about the project’s priorities/ tradeoffs. Is cost now more important than time, or time-to-market is more important than quality?
    – providing scenarios (eg time/ cost forecasts, risk analyses) regarding options for structuring projects differently to maximise the priority agreed to above.

    Sometimes, the best thing that a PM can do for the business is to help the business make a decision that would lead to the project shutting down. How many PMs have you met that will do that?(!)

    Having this sort of focus would differentiate an ordinary PM from a proactive, business-focused PM – the kind you need in a recession.

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 25, 2009, 4:14 pm

    I fully agree that PM should provide different scenarios especially on project trade-offs. It shouldn’t be any different when times are good.

    Actually the example you bring is great – personally I advised my bosses to shut the big project down. I did it in 2006. No recession times or something.

    Yes, some skills become more important but none of them are exclusive for bad times. It’s just the standard situation when there are problems you look for best of breed to help you.

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