Three tricks to help you see a project's whole scope

It's the end of the month already. My,

time flies. I should write something introspective and

retrospective, summing up my brief exposure to the job hunting

market. I'll probably write something like that in my journal,

assuming I'm awake for it. Instead, today I want to loop back to

suggest a simple method for envisioning your project in multiple


Now, we bound projects in the iron

triangle (time, resources, scope/function) and generally involve

challenges ranging along contractual, financial, logistical, human

resource, political, and technical dimensions. I know there's more,

but I'm trying to be brief. We coordinate all of these elements into

a single “project plan” and one or more integrated time lines.

It's that later part I would like to

address. I don't know about you, but I can get a little focused on

one dimension of a project when I stay on it for too long. That's

good, in that I learn a lot about a particular bit of the puzzle.

If, for example, I'm head down on financial spreadsheets for a few

weeks, I'm likely to know more about it than anyone else. That's

bad, though, in that I lose track of all of the other dimensions of

the project. Focusing on the finances can, for example, lead me to

neglect to update the political time line as we move forward.

Recognizing this failing in myself, I use the following tricks to get back in touch with the big picture:

  1. Breaking apart the time lines –

    It's an interesting hour's exercise to break your critical path back

    down into its component parts. I tend to break it down into four

    sections (financial, logistical, political, and technical) and then

    try to reintegrate them based on the current project state. During

    the integration I come up with a lot of questions; those questions

    become the framework for my next walkabout.

  2. Take a pariah to lunch – Every

    large project team has one or more people the other team members do

    not associate with. You probably already know who they are. Take

    that person out to lunch and listen, really listen, to what they

    have to say about the project and its project. Try to get them to

    open up about two or more dimensions of the project, not just their

    immediate work.

  3. Sort your project issues and risk

    lists – No, not by severity, probability, or current mitigation

    status. Sort them by dimension, looking at them in terms of what

    you've identified and when you did it. For added interest, apply a

    different time line (say a financial time line to the political

    risks) and look for the patterns.

These tricks help me to rebuild my

mental map of the situation and reset my focus where it needs to be.

Obviously there are dozens, if not hundreds, more approaches – I'm

fond of using various mind mapping approaches as well.