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But Did You Save The Project Receipt?

Ugly_sweaterThe ugly (as in "should be arrested for wearing it in public") sweater.

The 100-pack of sausages from around the globe.

The autographed autobiography of Charlie Sheen.

Tube socks and Old Spice.

So, do we have any other nominations for re-gifting? Or should we do society a favor and make sure these things make it to the nearest dumpster, never to see the light of day again? They are officially known as the undesirable Christmas present. The first year I was married, my wife's grandmother sent me some very "interesting" underwear that was two sizes too small. Suffice it to say, I was thankful that there was a gift receipt that came with them.

Unfortunately, projects do not come with gift receipts.  Some of them should. We tend to lock our projects down with constraints the way we lock our friends and family down with Aunt Maude's Fruit Cake (which is actually the same cake that was baked in 1951, the year she was married, and has been regifted for the past 60 years).

Being on the receiving end of projects, I've been gifted with some real stinkers. While I generally enjoy the challenge of project recoveries, there are some traits which make certain project rescues better than others. And there are other projects that are the equivalent of the bedazzled and hand-painted Christmas tie. One year I got a claims system project with a bi-polar sponsor, a passive-aggressive team, and a vendor with delusions of grandeur. Another one was a compliance project where the previous project manager had annoyed everybody to the point he was ostracized, the sponsor was young and clueless, and the lead BA had the charm of a porcupine.

The trick to avoid getting stuck with a dog gift is simple: set some expectations early with your key project stakeholders. Think of it as giving yourself a VISA gift card. Set some general parameters or boundaries. This allows the project manager to avoid micromanaging stakeholders, the project equivalent of being forced to wear the light-up sweatshirt that blinks "I brake for reindeer." A good idea is creating a "How We Work Together" document at the BEGINNING of a project. If 90% of a project manager's time should be spent in communication, then setting expectations up front on boundaries, scope, and parameters will be critical to creating a relevant and meaningful experience.

What about you?  How do you prevent receiving the project equivalent of the hand-knitted Santa Claus tissue-cozy?

(Modified from a post I published for Iowabiz)


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