The “Real” 3 + 2 Rules of Successful Project Management

I’ve got your “REAL” 3+2 rules right here.

In my earlier career before I became a Lean-head, I held progressively responsible engineering and management roles within the technology sector. Those were the days. Silicon Valley was positively sizzling — the engineer’s revenge. If you didn’t take at least three after-work meetings each week with your personal headhunter (aka, the Long Island Ice Tea enabler), you were branded a “going nowhere slacker”.

New breakthroughs were scheduled daily by suit-wearing big bosses far above my salary grade who vaguely recalled from college that Ohm’s Law was some advanced form of guided meditation. These were the same guys who had long since forgotten the importance of performing a credible tolerance stack-up… you know, one good enough that you’d trust the safety of your family with the product. Anyway, since no one told us we couldn’t develop new stuff all the time, and capital was positively e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e, we blissfully did make new things every day… uh… that is, blissful for the most part.

With some early performance wins on my part, and a willingness to accept accountability for my actions, my career swiftly blossomed into leading the development cycle for the hardware I used to touch. Like all the other new Project Managers, I thought my job was more or less to get people organized to meet contract and technical requirements. At the time, we used a genuine bleeding-edge breakthrough called the “Integrated Product Development Team” (IPDT). (May say more about that another time because it’s not what this post is about. For our purposes here, just imagine what it might be or refer to the link.)

Among the IPDT’s rollcall were many of my former colleagues from the high-tech trenches. That description of them mainly denotes that we took morning breaks together and were on the same after work (when not with our headhunters) beach volleyball squad. Sometimes we even accidentally put on each other’s lab coats — and then laughed about it. Still a crack-up.

The first time out of the chute with my very own IPDT I detected some interesting characteristics among my former frontline collaborators; qualities that I had not previously perceived through my 5% pink-tinted tech-nerd spectacles (caused by early-onset presbyopia from scanning too much fine print).

First off, some of the team were unaware of the difference between reality and illusion.

We now know that at the root of this problem was the influence of freshman philosophy and psychology classes foisted upon these poor souls before their brains had fully developed.

Others had no concept of time.

That one was harder for me to fathom as I had been acquainted with several of these folks since our foundations in public school. I was certain that calendar and timekeeping theory had been covered, even in home room… more than once. And it wasn’t that long ago. Of course, back then the bell sounded to change classes at the end of the period, so that helped bridge the gap.

Many of the rest simply couldn’t make decisions – at least not very quickly.

Okay, I kind of get that one. I mean, things were changing so fast that – if – you simply waited for the fabled “optimized solution” with “better data”, you could easily justify taking four weeks to place an order for a simple digital multimeter — because hey, everyone knows that newer one will be way better.

As I pondered emerging perceptions concerning my mates and considered how to best manage my troubled sentiments about our workforce in general, I was also fortunate enough to work for a string of really excellent bosses who, in composite, laid down an easy to remember set of rules that absolutely addressed all of these concerns and has served me well. Now, it’s true that there are countless tomes available on the machinations of best-in-class project management that I might have referred to instead. On the other hand, these rules are simple enough to remember and actually use. For each, I’ll inform, then briefly expand upon the real 3 + 2 rules of successful project management – the only ones that genuinely matter.

Since you’ve been patient and probably only scrolled down two or three times to look ahead for some concise table that images well on the screen of your Galaxy S8+, I’ll now share them with you here.

RULE 1: If it exists, show it to me.

  • Elegantly simple it its demand, we have an agreement that something which occupies space and has mass should be here today. Nothing else will do… Really.
  • Enlightened manager query: Ryan, could you use some help with keeping your commitment?

RULE 2: Time stops for no man.

(I mean, person… I mean, associate… I mean… oh, crikey… recurring attack of charm school political correctness. Thought I was cured. Sorry everyone.)

  • We have competitors. I’ve been told that the definition of ‘competitors’ is that they do everything better and faster and seek to annihilate us… Really.
  • Enlightened manager solution: Look everyone! Who could have dropped off this crate of day-planners?

RULE 3: Make a decision; if it’s wrong, we’ll make another one tomorrow.

  • Chances are darn good that you know the right thing to do. You’ve got a 4.0 Stanford BSEE, right? Wallow in indecision if you must. Or better yet, take a leap and be handsomely rewarded… Really.
  • Corollary to rule 3: I said make a decision, not any decision. If you make a decision and it doesn’t work out, you’ll still be here tomorrow for the redirect. If you make any decision as a habit, eh… probably not so much.
  • Enlightened manager recognition: Chris, well done, just what we needed. You da’ bomb!

Later on, inspired by notable IPDT outcomes while observing only the prior three rules, I was then prepared to absorb the following two concepts that I’ve discovered apply almost universally… bonus rules I include just for you.

RULE 4: Where there is the shadow of a doubt, there is no doubt.

  • If you’re positive that “Casey” is stealing from the company, everyone else knows too. And if Casey openly admits he / she is stealing, then there’s a good chance you’re all correct in your assertion. No mob mentality here, just common sense… Really.
  • Enlightened HR Manager’s role: Casey, I need to inform you that we are separating you from your employment here today. (Can you guess why this act is enlightened?)

RULE 5: Hope dies last.

  • Special corollary of rule 4: Waiting for Casey’s behavior to improve and return the money he / she embezzled from the company reveals what a truly great heart you have. But, it won’t happen… Really.
  • Enlightened project manager’s take: I could buy some time, heal Casey, and lose the respect of all my honest project team members who are just trying to get something done and have some fun with like-minded people – or not.

That’s it dear readers. The real 3 + 2 rules of successful project management. These should spare you years of tedious discovery and position you for speedy domination, control, uh… leadership of your market space.


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