The Myth of Project Unicorn

Project Management 101


Optimism is a wonderful thing. It brings with it the ability to picture a project from beginning to successful end, with nary a hiccup along the way. That would be Project Unicorn and, unfortunately, it doesn’t exist.

This belief that there’s no such thing as the perfect project in no way means I’m against optimism, or that I don’t have a boat-load of it myself, every time I start a project – be it home improvement, a new garden, book, or project/implementation at the day-job.

What it means is that I treat my projects like I do emergency preparedness. I go into it knowing I’m going to be successful, but that no doubt something will run amiss, and I ensure I have a multitude of mitigation plans for when things go wrong. Because inevitably, something WILL go wrong.

It may be a minuscule hiccup – say for instance the customer wants something they forgot to request, and it’s actually an easy thing to provide.

It may be a road-bump, a developer is out for a week sick, my computer crashes, a defect is found at the last minute. If you have mitigation plans already in place, you simply pivot, communicate to all parties involved, and keep going strong.

It may also be a major issue – during integration it was found that the new software, or customization of existing software, doesn’t play nicely – heck, doesn’t play at all – with software or the database it’s reliant on or integrates with, which is a showstopper.

Again, if you have a plan, and communicate, you can pivot and keep going. The worst thing you can do is NOT communicate, to not have even a whisper of a mitigation plan, and have the project come to a grinding halt.

I cannot stress enough – have a variety of mitigation plans. Have a list of things that can go wrong; add to that a list of people who can provide information, step in as developer, QA, another PM to brainstorm with; have backups of all your documentation, implementation plan, phone numbers and email addresses. Be. Ready.

Let’s address communication. Do it! I’d rather over-communicate a bit than under. Believe me, management, nor the customer, are going to appreciate last-minute notification of issues or delays. They want to know ahead of time, not be surprised and caught flat-footed.

It’s much better to provide regular status reports, whether the project or implementation is on time, in danger of delay, or delayed. Especially if, when there’s an issue or delay, you’ve included in your report what your mitigation plan is. Although no one welcomes notice of problems, management and the customer will appreciate not only the information and being informed, but that you have a plan to handle it as well.

Inevitably, you’ll need to ask your development team, or even other team members, to work harder, work longer, or brainstorm with you to come up with solutions. I like to incentivize or reward, in these cases. In my experience, you as the project manager or product owner can’t always use company funds to do this.

I’ve found I really don’t mind footing the bill myself to bring in donuts, bake cookies, or provide the team a few boxes of pizza for those early or late times, or just as a thank you. It’s money well spent, even if it’s from my own pocket.

They’ll appreciate being recognized and rewarded, and the next time (hopefully not often) you need to ask for something extra – whether it be time or effort – they’ll be more apt to jump on your roller coaster for the ride and yell, “Bring it on!” instead of grumbling or running for the door.

So, go forth and plan, scheme, and prepare for Project Unicorn – believe me, you’ll be happy you did!

Success is possible…..

S ee ahead and plan

U nderstand – fully – the customer’s requirements

C ommunicate


E xpect challenges and be ready

S h(& happens, don’t panic

S hare praise……


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