The whole program was very sensitive since there was lot of opposition to it internally on the customer side. The training contract was also politically sensitive as their employee's continuation depended on their comfort with what was being taught. At the same time, the customer management had a lot at stake as they wanted to show their sincerity by ensuring that the best training was provided. Our training department sent a trainer from India for this purpose.
As a part of the conversation one morning, our PD inquired how comfortable i was in providing training to a group of people on internet technologies. I agreed immediately and got to know later that the trainer was perceived as an inexperienced person ( though he was a full time trainer with suitable qualification and experience) and that his boyish looks didn't work with a group of people in their 40s and 50s. Client employees wanted the trainer to be replaced. Now, if the trainer had to go back and be replaced by another person, that would have been a set back to our organization (lost time and impacting other projects) and given enough ammunition to a group of people (within our client organization) who were not in favor of the project.
Years later, when i started managing projects on my own, i recalled this incident as an example of how to sense ahead of time that something was wrong , and manage the impact. 'Ahead of time' need not actually be 'way ahead of time' but is all about being early enough to sense that something was wrong before others do and set it right.
Now how does a project manager work on developing a PMEWS? It is easier to develop one's own PMEWS if people train themselves on the following skills.
- Ability to be in touch with the people who are closest to the ground level; this is important because real useful information can't be got by throwing around one's positional power, while operating in one's own plane.
- Ability to establish a communication channel that provides real news about the project; there should be an element of trust that enables proper communication to happen at the time of need. without this, just being in touch doesn't really help.
- Ability to differentiate Signal and Noise; look out for everything and be on the watch for something different or unusual or superficial statements like 'everything is fine' that don't go into details. This capability comes over a period of time.
- Ability to retrospect; thinking and linking events that happened. Keeping a log of events and connecting the dots backwards also helps. Retrospection allows us to study a situation and learn our lessons
- Ability to learn from other people's experience and link it to one's own experience; this involves reading books and papers on project management and more importantly understanding how the lessons can be applied in one's own context.
- Ability to develop one's own set of heuristics; Develop a set of rules, through trial and error, while keeping in mind that the rules are all context and individual specific.