“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.”

These words were once spoken by George S. Patton, a general who is best known for his command of the Seventh United States Army, and later the Third United States Army, in the European Theater of World War II. To many, Patton is seen as the “saint” of leadership. Due to his ability to understand what it took to innovate, choose the right people, and rally the troops (literally!), Patton was always able to accomplish “the impossible.”

Like everything else in life, project management is full of unknown paths, waiting to be discovered. Naturally, one of the best ways of learning about how to get through the thorny barriers of project management world is to learn from those who have been there. Many project managers have told me that one of the things they like most about working in project management is that they are continuously learning things. Whether they come from years of best practices or from one-time mistakes, lessons learned from working in project management are always valuable.

That being said, I asked some key people in the project management space to share valuable lessons they have learned in project management. I learned something from each of them, and hopefully, you will too.

The following is an anecdote that Jeff Furman shared with me. Jeff is an experienced project manager who currently teaches project management at NYU, on-base for the US Army and for NetCom Learning. He is the author of the Project Management Answer Book, and will be publishing second edition of the book soon.

Project Management Lesson Learned: The Need To Adapt To Make It Work

By Jeff Furman, PMP®

I was right in the middle of leading an effort to bring in a set of new enterprise software tools to modernize our IT department when 9/11 hit.

The new software was important for bringing efficiencies and increased capabilities to our department, but after 9/11 came, along with an accompanying downturn in the NY economy, some in the company tried to preserve the status quo by pushing to cancel the project.

Realizing that costs had become a larger priority for the company than efficiency at that point, I worked with our legal resources and the vendor’s team to restructure the various multiple contracts our company had in place with this vendor at that time, as part of our purchase. We would consolidate many small licenses into one large ELA (Enterprise-wide License Agreement) and in return, would be granted a large volume discount as part of the ELA.

This was a major change in the project, because getting buy-in from our company’s many business units was going to be a huge challenge. But by committing to the ELA, our company wound up saving $6 million dollars per year in annual licensing fees.

The lesson learned is that we never would have gotten the deal through, and the unintended benefit of the large cost-savings, if we hadn’t been willing to adapt and change direction quite a bit, including, yes, changing the project’s scope!

Jeff Furman, PMP / Project Management Instructor
Website: www.Jeff-Furman.com
Book: The Project Management Answer Book
Twitter: @PMAnswerBook

I am grateful that many were willing to share their experiences with me, and I look forward to sharing them with you all over the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned for more lessons from Peter Taylor (The Lazy Project Manager), Robert Kelly (Kelly Project Solutions / Host of #PMChat) and more. If you have learned an important lesson in project management and would like us to share it, please drop me a line at kim[at]onedesk[dot]com.

Related blog posts:
What is Project Management? – A Video Infographic
Project Success Lesson: Honesty is The Best Policy by Henry Chuks
Project Management Mistakes and Developing Lessons Learned by Robert Kelly
When Projects Get Chaotic, Share Knowledge Bit by Bit by Peter Taylor
Handling Stress: A Lesson for Project Managers by Soma Bhattacharya
The Product Owner Is Your Best Customer, a PM Learns by Hala Saleh
Save Projects by Being Open and Adaptable by Naomi Caietti
Training Plans: Consider Different Skill Levels by Rob Prinzo

2 Comments

  1. Jeff Furman

    Kimberley, thanks again – and how great is it to be first in your new series! I look forward to reading all the upcoming contributors. A pleasure working with you!

    Also, you used a quote from Patton in your opening. I think of Patton for Lessons Learned also because it is said that he read Rommel’s book, “Infantry Attacks” (based on Rommel’s tactics developed in World War I) as a way of learning how to defeat him in World War II.

  2. Kimberley Chan

    Hi Jeff,

    Thank you for sharing your story, it’s a pleasure for us to work with you as well! Yes, I thought that quote from Patton was very appropriate for this introduction piece as he really is a true leader who learns his lessons and teaches them well – glad you think so too!

    Best,

    Kim

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