One of the most useful things I’ve heard over the last few weeks is a comment from a former project manager. She said, “I never produced project plans, I only ever produced a model of how we were going to tackle the problem.” I thought this was a great explanation of how to tackle the age-old problem that (stated in military terms) no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
This relates to something I’ve alluded to before when writing about risk—that it’s possible to derisk a project not by addressing specific risks with specific actions, but rather, by addressing more general (and perhaps unarticulated) risks by changing the fundamental way you approach the problem. For example, making small incremental deliverables of genuine value mitigates against all kinds of risks inherent in “big bang” approaches. Similarly, for any specific project an appropriately-defined overall “project model” can help mitigate against other undesirable eventualities.
Project managers get a hard time in the world of Agile development. A lot of that is because they are associated with plans that never survive that first contact with reality, and they are seen as people who try to then realign reality with the plan. But that stereotype need not be true. The former project manager who talked about project models is one such example.