The commonly used US Marines mantra “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” is used to remind Marines on missions which are not going to plan, that they can still succeed by taking a different approach to the mission.
This mantra could equally well be applied in a project management environment when a project is not going to plan, or when a project is initiated in such a way that makes it impossible to create a good plan at the outset. If, like US Marines, project managers could be trained to improvise, adapt and overcome all eventualities, this could improve the success rate of many projects.
Consider the very common scenario when a project manager is presented with a pre-defined deadline for the completion of a project (usually imposed due to sales and marketing activities) and a pre-defined product but with nothing more than a sketchy outline of the actual requirements and the ultimate business goal. Often the budget and other resources have not even been assigned so are unknown quantities.
This is a very familiar situation and any project manager with a substantial amount of experience will have developed their preferred way of dealing with such situations. This will depend very much on your industry and the corporate culture within your and/or the client organisation.
But whatever is your favourite method of handling such a situation, maybe we can all learn something from the US Marines, at the very least, “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” is a very useful phrase to motivate us when all is not going to plan.
Improvisation is dealing with unforeseen circumstances by making the best of what is available. So in a project management environment when you have been assigned fixed resources (whether that’s funds or people) which are not adequate for the task you need to look for ways of getting the most out of those resources. This may mean thinking creatively or looking at innovative ways of completing a task.
If a client has stated what they want as the final outcome and there is a fixed deadline then adapting to the clients needs is critical. Certainly you could go down the route of using your skills of persuasion to convince the client that the deadline is unreasonable and the budget too small, but this is not always feasible. But a lack of detailed requirements at the outset is not necessarily a disadvantage as it is then able to steer the requirements decisions to ones that will, of course, deliver the required outcome, but perhaps need less skilled staff or can be delivered more economically.
You could view a lack of resources and a lack of detailed requirements as a hindrance to a successful outcome but they are merely obstacles and obstacles can be overcome by improvising and adapting to the challenge. No project manager was ever successful without relishing a challenge – that is, after all, what we all thrive on.
This approach is not perhaps one that would be advocated on a project management training course but, backed up by experience and the right training in a formal methodology such as PMP, PRINCE2 or APMP, a little bit of improvisation and adaptability can be another weapon in a project manager’s armoury to help overcome obstacles and challenges.