Confessions of a Project Manager

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Since I am in the confessing mood, I must first confess that I borrowed the title of this article from a new friend of mine at Bright Hub PM, who shall remain nameless–but she knows who she is.

I have either been President or CEO of my own company for over 20 years. Over that time, I have had the opportunity to write several project plans and participate in a project plan as a stakeholder. This article will not serve you well as a blueprint for “How to Be the Perfect Project Planner or Write the Perfect Plan for a Project,” just as Peter Piper didn’t pick a peck of pickled peppers.

But if you walk away with an understanding of what is needed in a project plan and can explain yourself without getting your tongue twisted, mission accomplished.

This is a true story. I couldn’t make this up: One of my first real jobs outside of the music industry, besides managing our family grocery store and meat market, was as an account manager for a marketing and promotions company. My first real task was to write a plan for a project that involved one of Proctor and Gamble’s brands and an alternative marketing campaign centered around NASCAR’s Winston Cup racing division.

Not only did the plan have to take into consideration P&G’s involvement from creation thriough planning and implementation but it also had to factor in the costs of the Winston Cup team, including things like the car, the pit crew, the fuel, the tires, replacement costs, the travel, and room and board while the team was on the road for the week prior to the race. We even had to predict down to the engine replacements, damage car replacements (on the off chance the car should get damaged before the race while practicing), yadda, yadda, yadda.

It was waaaay more than I would have thought I was going to have to prepare.

When I submitted the first plan to our company president, she said “Frank, this looks good”.

I thought to myself, “It does, doesn’t it? And, it didn’t take me that long.”

Oddly enough, this was also her second comment, in the form of a question, she asked, “How long did this take you?”

I proudly proclaimed, “Oh, about four hours.” I had written a project plan for a seven million dollar racing program in four hours and the cool thing was, it was my very first plan. Man, I was a natural. Oh, Contrare Monfrare!

Well, long story short, it was not that cool and had she not seen something in me that she liked (as she pointed out to me a couple of years later). Actually, it was first and last plan for that company. She proceeded to ask me questions about what was not in the plan because there was a lot more not in the plan than there was in the plan.

Looking back, I had basically outlined for her what, in my best guesstimate:

  • The project would cost to operate for one year.
  • What P&G would get out of the sponsorship in terms of bang for their buck.

I then closed the plan with an analogy of how a musician takes three sizes of ropes and somehow by magic makes them all one size. To this day, I get a big laugh, and she probably does also, thinking back on that project plan. By the way, the rope trick is one of the only magic tricks I knew so I had worked it into the plan. This way, when I presented it, I could amaze them with my magic abilities and…well, I might as well have used the rope to hang myself.

It’s funny now, but when she got through with me, I was not laughing.

She continued for what seemed to be hours to list all of the things that I didn’t include in my plan. Needless to say, I went back to the drawing board. I went to an old college professor and he gave me the 911 version of what should be included in a project plan. I presented it (with no magic act) and the rest, as they say, is history.