By Martin Clark, PMP
What happens when you run a project with no project management experience or training?

A national fruit and vegetable grower decided to build a 50-acre greenhouse for growing tomatoes in optimal conditions by controlling the variables affecting growth and quality. The company budgeted $48m for the project and set a specific delivery date that would allow tomatoes to be planted and revenue generated shortly afterwards. The project team consisted of an operations manager, a national projects manager, and a maintenance manager.

Challenge
When formal planning permission was rejected, a major project milestone was missed. The local council rejected planning permission because they had been supplied with insufficient information. Now the project was behind schedule, over-budget and without real leadership. The project lacked definition and planning—basically the team had moved straight to implementation with only milestones as project plans.

Solution
At this point, Kepner-Tregoe was asked to bring some project management skills to the project. My first action was to conduct a Situation Appraisalthis is the KT process that basically asks, what is going on? We captured all of the concerns within the team. These concerns, along with action statements, formed the basis of a project plan. Determining what was required, in what order, by whom and by when provided clarity to the team. This allowed further actions to be captured and a detailed project plan to emerge.

This time the plan involved stakeholder communicationpreviously team members were missing details or wasting efforts by unknowingly working on the same thing. Creating a clear stakeholder communication plan allowed for minor issues to be resolved daily, the project sponsor to be updated weekly, and the steering committee to be updated monthly. In addition, we proactively managed project risks by considering what could go wrong, how to avoid it, and what to do if potential problems do arise.

Taking the time to redefine and replan the project and to consider project risks brought calm and composure within the team. Rather than the project happening around them, they were now in control. They had greater visibility of what was on the horizon, rather than reacting to daily issues. The project is now within budget and on track to deliver the greenhouse within the specified date.

Lesson Learned
Running large-scale projects requires project management expertise. Had the project team members received formal project training or had existing project qualifications or experience, they would have understood the importance of clearly defining and planning the project before moving to the implementation stage. Taking the time to build project management skills not only saves time and money, it helps to ensure project success.

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