The walk of shame

April 29, 2008 at 12:26 am | Posted in Project Management | 1 Comment

Yes we have all been there.
You put your project plan together, made the proposal, it was accepted and the project was given the go ahead.
You estimated 5 days, starting Monday, for a particular phase to be completed.
Wednesday comes around and it is becoming abundantly clear that you are not going to reach the deadline.
After some soul searching it is decided to go cap-in-hand back to the key stakeholders and ask for more time. I remember the first time I had to do this. I dubbed it my ‘walk of shame’ as I made my way down the corridor. It was my first big project and I was so confident.
We had crossed all the T’s and dotted all the I’s and yet here I was, about to admit failure (in my eyes) before the group that so confidently had entrusted me with managing this project.
Well I’m older and wiser now, and I thought that I would offer a seasoned perspective that some of you may find helpful.

It Happens!
First of all you need to get into your head that this stuff happens. Despite all our best efforts, things change! Sometimes it’s our fault and other times it is the result of something outside of our control.
Usually (as in my case) the estimations were incorrect, and this occured because there was not sufficient requirements  gathering at the outset. remember – you can’t ask too many questions!
Sometimes a key resource is pulled off the project for one reason or another and this can set all your expectations back by weeks or even months.

People Understand!
Remember that in most cases, we are all human, we have a mortgage, a job, a car and a mother-in-law. We are all trying to get through the day and do the best we can. I have found that if we communicate clearly people will usually understand. Yes there is going to be the one argumentative, type A, grumpy pants – there always is. Just deal with it – and Always be honest! Accept blame where it is due and commit to move ahead and bring things back in line.

Don’t take it personally!
Wow this was a big one fo rme. Once it sunk in I felt much better. Remember that you are a professional. Absorb the moment, deal with it, learn from it, and move on.

I have found that regular communication (even a once a day email) helps to position people’s expectations, and lessen the blow when you eventually knock on their door. People are usually open to most things, just try and lessen the surprise by keeping them in the loop.

Never overpromise! 
Guys, this is the most important thing – and I am talking from experience here. Be honest. Always be realistic and don’t be afraid to say “No” it can be a PM’s best tool.


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  1. Personally, I sometimes have trouble with clients that suggestively ask questions such as: “it can’t take that long, can it?” Which I translate as: “you must be a total idiot if it takes more than five minutes”. This gets back at your points about “never overpromise” and “don’t take it personally” at the same time 🙂

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