Dress for the Crash, Not for the Ride (aka Defensive Project Management)

There is an expression motorcyclists use when they are getting ready to take their bikes on the road. “Dress for the crash, not for the ride”. What does this mean? It means that the helmet, the leather, the boots, and other protective gear are not for the exhilarating, wind-in-your-face motorcycle ride….but rather for the unpleasantness that could occur in the event of a crash.

Nobody gets on their motorcycle thinking that this is the day that things can go terribly wrong. But it can, and every now and then it does.

Nobody starts out a new project thinking that things can go terribly wrong. But it can, and every now and then it does.

That’s why bikers dress for the crash, not for the ride. In other words, hope for the best, prepare for the worst. How can this be done when it comes to Project Management? You can do this by managing your projects defensively.  You need to wrap just enough protection around your project so that you (or your team, your department, or your company) are not gravely injured in the event that something goes terribly wrong. It can, and every now and then it does.

Below are three suggestions you can use as protective gear for you and your team:

1)      Keep a Chron File of Pivotal Decisions and Activity – There are many twists and turns that occur throughout the life of a project. Sometimes major decisions are collectively made to turn right, instead of what was previously decided as left. However, collective memories are short, and those decisions may be called into question later. A simple chronological history that includes Date, Decision and other relevant information will help recall the facts to not only your mind…but to the collective memory as well.

2)      Keep Great Meeting Notes – Ah, the bane of the Project Manager’s existence…recording and publishing minutes from an overabundance of meetings. While tedious and time consuming, these notes provide the details that tie together the major pivotal decisions you’ve recorded in your Chron File. Think about it this way, the Chron File is your project Balance Sheet. It is a snapshot of your project at that moment in time. The meeting notes are your Profit and Loss statement. This shows how you made it from one Balance Sheet to the next.

3)      Capture Key Decisions for the Record – If key decisions are made outside of a meeting (for example, in the hallway or over lunch), it is a good idea to follow up with an e-mail that confirms the decision to those impacted. This quick note will get it in the timeline of the project, and on the record, for future reference if necessary.

A word of caution, however.  A balance is necessary when it comes to protecting yourself and your project. You don’t want to have the reputation of only focusing on “blame avoidance” activities and not getting things done. However, it would also be naïve to think that every project will end up wildly successful without any bumps in the road.  By following the suggestions above, you will be able to help people within your company (as well as customers) remember decisions that were made, remove emotion from the equation and keep your project environment objective. It’s the Project Manager’s version of “dress for the crash, not for the ride”.

So, what are some of things you have done to defensively manage your projects while not crossing the “blame avoidance” line?

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