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But I Planned Better Than This!

April 16, 2013

There are certain locations that you just know to avoid:

1) WalMart on Christmas Eve
2) Disneyland during Spring Break
3) The Post Office on April 15th

These are deadlines that you know of well in advance. You can start planning in order to avoid these just about as early as you need to. My wife makes sure I avoid the first one. My kids help me avoid the second one and my CPA helps me avoid the third one.

So, what am I doing in line at the Post Office on April 15th?
Clearly today represents a failure in planning. As a Program Manager, I can give you all sorts of techniques for keeping your plan on schedule. I can help you strategize ways to build a buffer into your schedule to allow you to deliver on time and under budget.

But, what about when the “best laid plans” go awry?

Let me explain what brought me to the Post Office and then I’ll talk about what it means for your projects.

I live in Utah and my CPA, Bliss & Skeen is based in Olympia, Washington. With email and efile, it’s not much more difficult to work remotely. Occasionally we need to scan and email a document, but John Skeen has been my CPA for almost 20 years. He’s got all my information from previous years and generally my taxes go smoothly.

I sent my tax info off in the first week of February and John got them eFiled and a copy back to me a few weeks ago. We generally don’t sweat the schedule much since I nearly always get a refund (did I mention I have 13 kids?) and even if we end up a day or two late, the IRS doesn’t really care if you are late so long as you don’t owe them money. This year, as I was reviewing my copy of the return, I realized my tax situation had changed last year but John had completed my return with the previous years numbers. It was my error in not telling him about the change.

Well, now I’ve got a problem. The IRS already sent me my refund, but my amended return means they gave me too much. Now I owe them money. A couple of urgent phone calls and I got the amended return this afternoon. I printed it, waited for my wife to get home to sign it and ended up standing in line with those people who didn’t plan as well as I did.


Yes, as project managers we have to acknowledge that sometimes things change. In this case it was my fault, but I couldn’t fix it. I had to go back to my CPA on his busiest day of the year and ask for more of his time. It was at this point that the 20 year history comes into play. Imagine if I were to walk in off the street and say, “Hey, does your senior partner have time to sit down and talk about some issues with my return?”

It’s important to be nice. That, in my opinion is the essence of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” one of my favorite business books. Not only will your life be easier, and it’s generally a good thing to do, but there are times when you will need a favor. It’s impossible to build a relationship of trust during your crisis. Today’s mix up just meant that I had to spend some time hanging out in the Post Office. But, there are times where an equipment provider may have an unexpected breakdown, or the database team may deny your request long after they promised to fulfill it. I’m sure you can come up with any number of “what ifs” that can knock your schedule off line.

If you have to delay your milestones, so be it. But, the ability to absorb this type of a setback and still deliver on time is what separates extraordinary PMs from simply good ones. So, do your best to anticipate delays and mitigate those, but realize that somedays even your best plans are going to be knocked off track. Those are the times you need to draw on your other skills and relationships to get things back on track.

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