ATD Blog

Guerilla Project Management—Moving From Controller to Helper

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Traditionally, when organizations need to improve the business results driven by projects, they attempt to build project management competence (and compliance) by doing the following:




  • announcing that some poor victim is the project management officer (PMO)  
  • giving the PMO a giant office with nice furniture and lots of whiteboards 
  • giving all staff a life-time subscription to MS Project Galactic (no, there really isn't such a thing) and requiring its use 
  • implementing SharePoint Scorecards with red/yellow/green status indicators for all current projects.

It’s no surprise that the average outcome is worse project results. Projects seem to drag on and on, and project data in MS Project and SharePoint goes out-of-date quickly. Poor performance is blamed on the PMO, and eventually, project management is declared “The Evil Cause” and it fades away.
No doubt, employees struggle with their workloads and leave work feeling more and more overwhelmed each day. Even at home, their lives are consumed by guilt and frustration as they attempt to be present for their families, while also keeping an eye on email pestering them on their smartphones. They know the quality of their work has suffered with all this multitasking, which adds to the angst.


Let’s consider a different approach—that focuses on helping versus controlling.

A few simple, minimal techniques can help you manage your projects more effectively. It starts with differentiating between tasks, projects, and processes. Also, when you estimate how long it takes to complete a task, you must stop assuming you will have uninterrupted, full focus and admit that your work is actually done in constant interruption. The reality is that what should be a four-hour task really takes two days.

Next, your projects will run more smoothly, rework will decrease, and quality will increase when you create the following:

  • a quick (45 minutes or less) project charter (that ties the project to business strategy) 
  • a project plan (that identifies who is doing what by when = accountability) 
  • a change management and governance process (that manages churn) 
  • a simple Excel dashboard.

Pretty soon, others will start to notice and say, "Teach me how to do that!" before you know it, people will be sharing templates and talking about how to reuse these project deliverables and techniques—jumpstarting their projects even more. Eventually, teams will combine their project deliverables into folders so they can back each other up, and there is less dependence on the physical brain power of each project manager. What’s more, the boss will find out about these folders, and love them. Now she knows what's going on, and starts to find ways to help projects achieve in more success.
Bottom line: the maturity of project management as HELPER vs. CONTROLLER looks like this:

  • Start with individuals. Help them do their job better, easier, faster. This approach, in turn, will help individuals feel better. 
  • Help people connect. Create opportunities for team members to learn from each other. 
  • Practice reusability. As much as possible, share previous project deliverables to jumpstart new ones in shared folders. 
  • Use the collected data to measure and drive improvement. Start by creating an organizational dashboard.

Want to learn more techniques for better project management? Join me for the “Methodology Madness: Complete Your Projects and Save Your Sanity” session at the ATD Core 4 Conference on September 28-29, 2017, in Austin, Texas.

About the Author

Lou Russell is president and CEO of Russell Martin & Associates. She is the author of the ATD Press books Project Management for Trainers, Leadership Training and 10 Steps to Successful Project Management, among other titles. In addition to her many books, she contributes frequently to Computer World, Cutter Executive Reports, and Network World, among others, and publishes Learning Flash, an electronic newsletter.

Lou speaks at several national and international conferences, such as the Project Management Institute, Project World, and LotuSphere. She holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from Purdue University, where she taught database and programming classes, and a master's degree in instructional technology from Indiana University.

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