Work+Time+Hands+Money = Goal!

Project management isn’t rocket science. Hell, rocket science isn’t rocket science really but I digress.

Managing any project successfully takes a unique combination of skill at prioritizing, interpersonal politics, record keeping, and the ability to understand that there are five basic elements to any project whether it’s mowing the lawn or invading a country. Those five basic elements are:

The goal: What are you trying to achieve? Figure that out first and you’re about 40% of the way there. Is the goal just to get the grass cut so you don’t get a ticket from the city or is it to have a yard manicured to the point where photographers from Better Homes & Gardens are having orgasms over your lawn? What the goal is helps determine the complexity and flexibility of…

The tasks involved (aka: the workload): What actually has to be done to achieve the goal? Hacking away with any old lawn mower is something your average, still hung over 15 year-old can do. Making a show garden worthy of Hampton Court Palace takes a different level of skill which brings us to…

The personnel (aka: human resources): Who is actually going to be doing these tasks? Do you have enough people in your house to get the jobs done? Do they have the right skills? Do they have the right equipment? If you don’t have what you need in terms of actual people or you have the people but they don’t have the right skills or equipment you may have to consider…

The money (aka: the budget): How much do you have to spend? Can you afford a new lawn mower? New clippers? Plants? The fancy mulch? Getting extra people to do the tasks or getting those people skills or equipment takes money. And all of these things have to be considered in light of…

The timeline (aka: the deadline): When do you want to have the goal achieved? More to the point, how long do you have to achieve the goal? What you’re trying to achieve (the goal) has to be evaluated against the time in which you have to achieve it.

The timeline is a special element unlike the others. See, time is a finite resource. You can not stop the clock no matter how much you wish you could. You can not stretch your 24 hour day into 30 hours no matter how many cans of Jolt Cola you drink. And up until a certain tipping point in each project you don’t have to worry about the clock: if the tasks increase you can add more personnel if you have them by shifting existing responsibilities or by spending money to either permanently or temporarily add personnel. But once you reach that tipping point in the timeline unless you either decrease the tasks involved or exponentially increase the number of people doing those tasks it is impossible to meet the deadline.

Where prioritizing comes in is in determining what is most important. In cases where keeping the budget low is the priority the key is often to find out if the deadline is flexible; lack of money to add human resources to do the tasks necessitates a decrease in workload or a lengthening of timeline. In cases where the timeline is inflexible and you don’t have any money to add more personnel the only option is to decrease the workload. Where decreasing the workload would compromise achieving the goal at all and the timeline is not flexible your only choice is to spend money to add more hands to the project.

Pretty simple, right? Balance the amount and complexity of work against the number of people you have to do the work and the financial resources you have to see if you can achieve the goal by the time you want to be finished after you’ve figured out what the priority element is that will be constant or inflexible: money, time, or workload.

So why is it that senior managers always fail to understand that you can not increase workload without adding personnel and still maintain your timeline?

When I figure that one out it will probably be time for me to go to the little project manager’s room in the sky. Until then, though, I need to find a way to explain to all of my various bosses that they’ve only got one monkey and they only pay that monkey enough banannas to cover 8 hours a day. Being a trash collector is looking better and better every day.