Editor’s note: Karen McIssac, the 2004 Charlotte Chamber Entrepreneur of the Year and a finalist for the Stevie Award, a national award for women entrepreneurs, is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and president of Project Managers.Many people love surprises. The group that has the most dislike for surprises is senior leadership and program/project sponsors and champions.

As program/project managers, we have to minimize surprise, keep this audience very informed, provide ample notification of the “good news and the bad news” and present the facts, options, risks clearly. Preparing this audience garners support for programs/projects as well as solicit their inputs and feedback.

What’s an example of a “surprise” and implications of it:

Program Manager is installing the HR/Payroll ERP application in October. Program Manager does not understand the importance of communicating to the Finance Director that the system is proposed being installed without having tested the W-2 Production component.


  • The Finance Director cannot assess the risk of installing a production Payroll system without W-2 function being validated.

  • The Finance Director does not have the opportunity to plan for the resources to test this W-2 function before year-end.

  • The Finance Director does not have the information that could assist in making a decision to delay the October installation until W-2 functions are fully tested.
  • By constant and continual communication, surprises are avoided and expectations have the opportunity of being met, risks assessed, options evaluated, decisions made with fact based information.

    Report the Issues

    We all report on Issues (or should as they exist in every project). Issues impact the overall status of programs/projects — an issue can represent something simple that can actually exist through and post implementation or something complex that can be a “show-stopper” and bring a program/project to a halt.

    Most organizations are using a simple stoplight approach to gauging the “importance” of Issues (red, yellow, green). The program/project team performs the assessment of this “importance” indicator on an Issue.

    Ensure that your program/project is forthright with your Issue stoplight assessment — this assessment will drive the emphasis put on resolving the Issue as well as drive the “overall” program/project status. No program/project with a RED Issue should be reporting an overall GREEN Project Status! As Issues are resolved, overall Project Status will change (and change again). Being cautiously optimistic is a great trait, being brutally honest about Issues and their correlation to overall program/project status is a better one for the Project Manager.

    Methodology and Practice — Is there a difference?

    We use these terms interchangeably and we may want to think about where there may be some differences.

    What’s a Methodology?

    Webster’s Definition: Systematized, the means used to attaining an end

    What’s a Practice?

    Webster’s Definition: Usage, manner, process

    Very similar -let us apply these definitions to Project Management!

  • If you are taking a driving trip to a destination, the map represents the Methodology — it is somewhat fixed (routes are displayed on it in written form). How you plan your trip, the routes, breaks/overnights, costs, estimated duration, and contingency for construction detours represents the use of the Practice.

  • Everyone that has utilized proven and repeatable practices and standard methodologies, forms/templates understands that one can save time and effort.

    Recreating new practices and new formats not only takes time to do, the recipient also has to be re-trained how to read and utilize the materials as well as execute the processes.

    Communication becomes more complex with unique vs. standard nomenclature. This is costly to any organization — that’s one of the reasons for standards and standard practices.

    Karen McIsaac is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and president of Project Managers, Inc., which specializes in maximizing return on project investments. She can be reached at 704-332-6611 or kmcisaac@ProjectMgrs.com