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The most practical project management quotes by ian peters

By Ian Peters | 20 June 2016

If It's Not in Writing, It Doesn't Mean Anything

Coined by “Mr Webinar” himself, this quote rings true across all project management knowledge areas and can be applied to a range of scenarios. I first learned this lesson in one my early jobs at the tender age of 20. My boss at the time had over ordered rolled turf for a display we were building at the local agricultural show. He gave the turf to me, about 260 square meters, and I shuffled it all home over a couple of loads in my rusty Kingswood ute. It didn’t take long to find someone who would take it off my hands for a reasonable price, and so the turf was swiftly re-loaded and driven across town to its new home.

A day or two later, Mick, the buyer called and asked me if I could also place it for him and get it going. Hungry for cash, I prepared some pricing calculations on the back of a napkin, and asked a couple of mates to come over and give me a hand to prep the site and lay the turf. 

We got half way through the job when more turf and soil had to be ordered to finish things off. Following a discussion with the lady of the house, I placed the orders and completed the work.

As I finished watering in the grass, Mick arrived home and brought me a beer. We stood and chatted for a while before the topic moved to payment. It was then Mick informed me that he was not going to pay me a cent, as he “did not get a quote, and he did not approve the variation for the extra grass, and that I should probably go home and forget about the whole thing.”

I may have pursued the matter via the Small Claims Tribunal at the time, but being young, green, reckless and stupid, and given the small value of the claim, I ended up just paying for it myself. Between the soil, the extra turf and paying off my mates for their labour, it took me several weeks to cover the costs of re-landscaping Mick’s back yard out of my own pocket.

What that experience taught me was to better manage my financial risk and be careful not to take people on their word. Every project that followed in my career involved some kind of contract or document, signed agreements and considerable up-front deposits, followed by close, regular payments during the work and on completion of the project.

It was a valuable lesson for me to learn at such a young age, and incredibly, in my mind I thank Mick for this lesson. At the time, it seemed like a lot of money (several thousand dollars back in the ‘80’s), but I am always mindful of the experience and it has probably saved me from having the same thing happen on much bigger jobs for hundreds of thousands more.

Under Promise - Over Deliver

Probably more mantra than quote, I often consciously remind myself to “under-promise” in my projects.

Consider the scenario where I am in a meeting with a client who asks how long it will take to complete a stage of the work. In my mind, I am thinking a week. Maybe I have made some initial calculations to justify this figure, but I will try to persuade my client that the stage will take at least two weeks.

I might start at three and negotiate to two weeks, but that still gives me plenty of time in contingency. Later, when I start to set goals for the project team to complete the same stage, I might tell them that the work needs to be done in 3 days.

This creates a sense of urgency in the team, who will usually do their best to complete the work in that short time frame. If they come back and ask for more time later on, I still have a few days up my sleeve to negotiate with. Because one thing is absolutely for sure, the team will use all of the time (and money and resources) I can give them and if their original allowance was for a week, they would still be asking for more time.

When Eating an Elephant, Take One Bite at a Time

This famous quote from General Creighton Abrams has been used widely, not just in the PM Lounge, but throughout the entire project management course.

The most complicated projects can be made much easier to manage when you decompose them into smaller, more manageable pieces. In project management we use the Work Breakdown Structure as a tool to help confirm scope and then attribute time and resources for individual items and pieces of a project.

In the real world, you don’t always require the complexity of a WBS of course, as it may be as simple as breaking down a problem into a few smaller chunks to make it easier to handle.

In the spirit of your qualification being your project, you can try this for yourself. If you're a past or present Upskilled student and you have been to the Project Management Lounge webinars (every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month, and hosted by yours truly, along with Rick “Mr Webinar” Landsdowne), then you will have probably seen how I set a study plan to guide students through their assessments for the month.

That plan is pretty simple – “Finish of Part 1 by the 15th of the month and send it for review Then, finish Part 2 by the 21st and send it over and you can probably have the last week off”. Tried and tested, those who apply this plan will always knock over a unit before the month is finished. 

Another way to phrase this mantra is "one step at a time".

Do you have any quotes or sayings that you use in your day-to-day job? Let us know!

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