No two projects are the same but acknowledging these truths of project management might help you deal with the uncontrollable.
1. Your project plan will change
The sooner as a project manager you learn to except that your project plan is not the declaration of independence but rather a living, breathing document open to misinterpretation and change the sooner you can get on with the important business of dealing with those miscommunications and changes.
2. If its not written down, it didn't happen
This works both ways. Things go wrong and when they do blame has to be dealt. Paper trails can be a useful way of passing the buck but they can also come back and bite you. You wrote the project plan- publish and be damned.
3. Over- runs happen
Over-runs happen. This is exponential. If your project is scheduled at a day, it will take 2. If its scheduled for 6 months it'll take a year. Ok this may be an exaggeration but the important thing is to make it clear from the outset that a timeline is a plan and when you do overrun remember, you're not the first, you won't be the last.
4. What a client doesn't know can't hurt them (but what a project manager doesn't know can only hurt them)
There will be times in your project where the whole picture may not be suitable for the client to see. Problems happen but a panicking client can compound them ten fold. Ask yourself, as a client what would you rather hear:
'The prototypes a mess, the lead engineer's eloped with the placement student and I've started drinking on my lunch hour'
'We're ironing out some kinks in the prototype and are on schedule for next week when Dave's back from annual leave. I've got a lunch meeting and will be back in the office in 3 hours'
5. Your project management software tells you lies
Whether your project management software is a full bells and whistles package with voice activated Gantt Chart generation widgets or a beer mat and biro your project management software will lie to you because even NASA scientists can't quantify an equation which accounts accurately for incompetence, illness and IT.
6. You are essentially a human dartboard
You may be a skilled project management professional with years of multi-disciplinary experience but the sooner you realise that as project manager your role at least some of the time is to stand in the firing line and take the darts (and worse) that the client or project team fire at one another the sooner you're skin will become thick enough that you don't notice.
7. 60? of the time it works every time
If your project relies on technology in any shape or form, which it variably will whether you're building microchips or sending an email, at some point that technology is going to break or misfire and throw you off track. Because you're not going to get your project plan signed off with a 2 week buffer because 'the server melted' or 'the email got lost in the post' you're better off adding an extra week for 'testing'.
8. Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition
Fear and surprise are the two weapons which your stakeholders will use against you at some point in the life of the project. Whether it's a deadline which absolutely needs to be brought forward 2 weeks or a change request which there's categorically no budget for, the important thing is to realise that such requests will come when you least expect them and when they will cause maximum disruption.
9. There are not 8 hours in the day
OK so your average working week might not reflect this fact but the truth is the modern office environment is not conducive to maximum productivity levels from your project team.
10. Worrying won't get it done any faster
This might sound like a cliche from the pages of a self help book but its fair to say that time spent worrying is time which could be spent coming up with a solution or at least containing the flames.
About the Author
Project Management Professional run Prince2, PMI, APM and MSP accredited project management training courses.