It may sound like a simple, maybe even simplistic question: how many project plans should you have for your project? Well, “one, of course”, you may answer. And you are right. 1 project -> 1 project plan. This is simple and basic project management knowledge.

Why is it then that ever so again I am stumbling over projects which are “led” by a PM who explicitly demands its project office to create and maintain more than one plan. Even better, asking the project office not to communicate any of them until further notice. What’s wrong in this picture? Several things:

  1. First of all, the project manager should be the master of the project plan. The minimum requirement is that he/she knows the project plan inside out. The PM may want to delegate updating the project plan to the project office if there is one. Still, the PM remains accountable for the accuracy and coherence of the project plan.
  2. Second, having more than one plan in place indicates that the scope is nearly clearly understood nor defined. Oops. So what exactly is the project objective? Could very well be that the PM thinks to know the answer to this question. But why does he/she need more than one project plan? Good question.
  3. Third, withholding vital information from the own project team and key stakeholders looms trouble. Trust is important. It has to be earned. And, trust is important if you want to successfully manage a project because you need a functioning project team you can trust and vice versa. The same applies to stakeholders. You need to know who the key stakeholders are and you need to manage, or shall we say “pamper”, them constantly. Withholding information is definitely the wrong strategy and achieves the opposite of project success.

What can you do in such a situation?

  1. You as the responsible and accountable PM need to revisit the scope of the project. Does the complete project team and stakeholders have the same understanding of the scope? And the timeline? If not, realign stakeholders’ expectations. Have a look at the presentation I gave at the PMI Global Congress North America 2008 in Denver (for the corresponding article click here) for ideas how to proceed.
  2. Review your project plans, identify the one which is meeting the minimum requirements. Communicate the plan to everyone involved, i.e., everyone should have at least read-only access. This includes the key stakeholders. Get rid of the others.
    OR …  if you find out that you do need 2 project plans, face it:  you are probably dealing with 2 separate projects.  In this case, set up the organization accordingly.  This means, 2 projects, 2 project plans, 2 status reports, etc.
  3. It is ok to prevent the plan from being messed up by more than yourself and the project office. Hence, save it with a password to edit.
  4. Trust has to be earned. Practicing open communication is critical. If you know a problem and risk as well as the mitigation, communicate it. If you don’t know what to do, ask. If you don’t, you will be hold accountable for not solving it, and, you are becoming the problem.
  5. The scenario described above indicates that this may not be the only issue. You may seriously consider conducting a formal project review by a third, neutral person who is competent of project management. Calling for a project audit does not mean that you cannot do your job. It means that you are asking for professional help. This may help save the project. In addition, it is an excellent learning opportunity (remember, Learning is a key component of effective leadership) and at the same time you cover your back. Sometimes it takes an outside view to see the obvious shortcomings.

Have you experienced similar situations? Let us know how you solved them and what you recommend.