How Optimism Can Ruin Your Project Plan

Jul 1, 2020

A well drilled project team has every member clear on their role. Watching a well oiled project machine at work is a beautiful thing. Getting the right skills into the right roles is key to smashing the Iron Triangle and over the years successful project team members generally gravitate towards their natural roles.

Take me. I like to take the same role in any project I’m in. It generally comes into play when the project plan is ready for review. I like to call it Captain Curmudgeon.

Now, that’s not to say I’m naturally a cup half full kind of guy. Quite the opposite. At one point last year a search through my wallet would have revealed memberships to three separate gyms… the very definition of optimism.

And everyone loves optimism. Sunny days and happy thinking naturally attract people. But the seasoned project manager knows something different, something realistic and truer. Optimism is the enemy of reality. It’s human nature to elevate expectations and want to please. But a project where no-one’s willing to play Captain Curmudgeon and challenge initiation estimates is likely starting from an inflated place.

Here’s a simple example. If your analysis of schedule and costs is predicated on everything taking the expected amount of time, then I guarantee that your budget will blow out and your project will be late. And I can tell you that knowing absolutely nothing about your project.

I’m not making this stuff up. KPMG recently reported only 30% of organisations are likely to deliver projects on time and only 36% of organisations are likely to deliver projects on budget. Those are troubling numbers. But the bigger trouble is this. The optimistic project manager looks at those numbers and shrugs. Why? Because they naturally believe their project will be in the “likely”.

Don’t be that guy. Once planning is complete, take a real, true and hard look at those numbers. If the ROI doesn’t stack up, have the courage to stop… without delay.