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What a shame that projects aren’t cells that we can put into a petri dish and analyze? To a large extent, project management is an art. And while there might be valuable project data that you could be tracking, I wonder if your project data are reliable.

Let’s consider an example. A small independent clothing chain was doing a major rebranding, that included a website redesign, changes to the stores, including signage, that aligned to the new branding, and free promotional products to be used on the launch weekend. Key stakeholders included a large design company, an IT group, a marketing products company, independent contractors to handle the store redesigns, and several persons inside management at the clothing chain.

The launch had been scheduled. To meet an aggressive launch date, the clothing company was very dependent on finding the right design company, coming up with working ideas that management liked, and then implementing those ideas in a timely fashion. Orders had to be placed, and contractors had to be engaged.

Management knew that a bad design idea would doom the company. It was betting the ranch, so to speak, on this rebranding effort. And the aggressive launch date was driven by cash flow issues. They simply thought they needed this rebranding for survival.

With this scenario, what valuable project data does the company need as this project goes forward? I’ll discuss some key areas, and some of the problems with getting reliable project data. Following that, I’ll discuss a way to manage the project and outline some questions that I think are important.

Valuable project data needs to be reliable. #projectmanagement #smartprojex #management Share on X

Valuable project data that your company needs:


In a “bet the ranch” project, you can be sure that costs are critical. From a project standpoint, the first challenge is to estimate some significant costs. Here are a smattering:

  • Branding company – Will you select one on a fixed price? If so, does that cost guarantee your satisfaction? How much work will the branding group do on the implementation?
  • IT group – Will you use your in-house group or have to engage an outside company? Will you be paying by the hour or has a group agreed to a fixed price engagement? If you are paying by the hour, how will you track hours worked and mounting costs to ensure that the project is not driven into the red by a contractor?
  • Contractor – They will definitely need a building contractor to handle the changeovers at all three stores. And the work will all need to be done on the same weekdays, so the contractor needs to have some depth of resources. Much time will need to be spent with a building contractor to define that scope. Who will do that?
  • Promotional products – What kinds of products will you want? And how much lead time is needed? What branding decisions need to be finalized before the orders are placed?
  • Project management expert(s) – Will the clothing chain need to hire expertise to manage this project? I know from my experience as a project manager that fixed price engagements never work out well for me and a project management experts are not cheap. This is a high stakes project. Would you really use an employee with no expertise in this area and task them with this?

The next challenge is to manage the costs once this project goes into execution. I’ll save that discussion until later.


Figuring out the scope of what is going to be done will be one of the first challenges this team faces. And this is the kind of project that really can’t be fully scoped without that winner idea from the branding company.

Early in the game, it would help to understand whether the company has the money to completely redesign stores. Maybe the rebranding is more successfully done by changing some signage and retraining staff?

After all, what draws their target shopper to their stores? Is it customer service, the colors of the logo, or catchy advertising gimmicks? Maybe the first exercise is to understand their target shopper. If cash flow is down, is it because of lack of buyers, thin margins, or uncontrolled operating costs?


Ultimately, there will be some critical deadlines as this project unfolds, but are all of them critical? How will you track them? I’ve written at length about managing deadliness effectively.


There will be a huge number of decisions, some of which need to be etched in stone, and some of which could be renegotiated, if need be. For example, is the decision that all stores will be converted at the same time negotiable if that decision turns out to be costly? Is the launch date truly non-negotiable? Would it make more sense to find the right branding company and get the winner idea on the table before tackling anything else? What aspects of the project can or should move forward before the scope is fully identified?

Understanding when decisions are negotiable and when they truly aren’t negotiable is a real art. Many times, project teams will be given a project date or a project scope, and find that one or both are more negotiable than they have been told. One job of the project manager is to balance the need for cost, schedule, scope, risk, and quality management. If management is rushing into a disaster, it needs to be confronted with that before too much money is spent.

If you don’t believe me, check out this case study on the Denver Airport Baggage System fiasco. In this project, experts repeatedly warned about problems but the team failed to recognize biases that kept the project manager from being objective. He was so committed to the project and desperately needed his team to keep him in check. Ultimately, management plowed forward, with disastrous results.

How will you manage the project?

Will you create a Gantt chart on this project, enter the costs and create a schedule? Then, you can create nice looking reports that show you what activities are ahead and behind and where you are over and under budget. But will that valuable project data be reliable? Probably not.

I created a video long ago that explains why project data can be unreliable.

Perhaps you should try the Smart Projex approach to achieve more reliable project data. I won’t outline the entire approach. You can buy my book, if you’d like. But here are a few more questions to ask yourself as you ponder this example.

To ensure the Company’s survival, what is most important to you?

Let’s begin with the assumption that you want to stay in business and thrive. So, on this project, is getting the scope right more important that the launch date? Or less? Is the quality and look of the final stores, and the website the most important thing? Is managing the risk of going out of business before you launch the most important goal?

What’s your budget range?

Can you identify the maximum and minimum amount you plan to spend on this project? If you can get an answer to this question now, you can save yourself from creating a plan that will be prohibitively expensive OR not dramatic enough to meet your needs.

Those are just two of the questions that I recommend before you get too far on the project. But for this discussion, let’s skip ahead to the scope discussions.

What can you agree on that you will NOT do?

At some point, you will need to flesh out your basic scope understanding and turn them into activities or work packages with a clear understanding of what DONE looks like. This can be hard, especially when things are changing by the day. Sometimes it helps to begin by identifying what you will NOT do.

Perhaps, in this case, you can agree that you will not move any stores, you will not address store egress (how people enter and leave), or parking concerns. Or perhaps in your analysis to date, you have learned that people aren’t coming to the stores because the parking is difficult.

What kinds of biases are most likely to arise?

I’ve written before on the concerns about bias. This article, Cognitive biases as project & program complexity enhancers, summarizes a few key biases that are likely to impact your project work.

It’s important that someone on the team be watching for cognitive biases that might impact your costs and schedule, in particular. The planning fallacy and optimism bias are well known in the project world. But if no one is paying attention, no one will recognize it for what it is and adjust.

Who do you think should be working on this project?

Resource availability is critical to ensure that the project moves forward. Who are the key players? How much time are they devoting to the project? What’s their enthusiasm level for the project and how will you maintain the energy?  Will you track hours for employees?

This blog doesn’t begin to consider all of the valuable project data that you might want to track or the questions to be asked. I just wanted to get you thinking.

If these questions are hard for you on a project you are actually working on, then you just need to spend more time on this. No one has a crystal ball. Can I help you? I continue to work on a plan to redefine project management. And I love working with real companies that are struggling. Sign up for a consultation and we can talk.

How will you manage the project? What's your budget? Who will do the work? And have you agreed on the tasks at hand? Can you answer these questions about your project? #projectmanagement #smartprojex Share on X