Saved by “Plan B:” The Importance of an Effective Project Manager

As the saying goes, “A stitch in time saves nine.” This story from one of AJC’s clients shows how an effective project manager can save more than nine stitches in time, particularly when Plan A doesn’t go according to plan.

A client with a rapidly growing business engaged AJC’s Julie Bryan to help with a new technology upgrade to their order fulfilment system. The client had already selected a vendor for the new system, so they urgently needed a project manager to help phase out the old system while also making sure their facilities and employees were prepared for the new system.

Anticipating and effectively preparing contingency plans

The original plan had a short four-month timeline for completion.  Within a few weeks of starting the project, however, vendor testing proved to not be as smooth as anticipated, resulting in a projected two-month delay. 

As Julie assessed the situation with the technology vendor, she realized that the client needed to consider the possibility that the delay would very likely be more than two months. Meanwhile, sales were increasing, and the old system was straining to keep up with the orders.

“We didn’t know when- or if- we would get the new system,” explained Julie. “We needed to go to Plan B. We needed to help our client use their existing system to meet customer demand, particularly as they faced the upcoming increase in sales volumes.”

“We needed to go to Plan B. We needed to help our client use their existing system to meet customer demand, particularly as they faced the upcoming increase in sales volumes.”

Julie interviewed employees at the company to seek input and she outlined her recommendations regarding the steps the client needed to take to continue for several more months with their existing order fulfilment system.

“Companies need to understand the risks of timelines slipping, and what the backup plans would be if they don’t meet that timeline,” Julie cautions. “At what point do we hit a date when the project absolutely must be complete? A project manager needs to determine that deadline and work backwards from that date to determine when a company would need to re-evaluate and potentially switch gears or start putting Plan B in place.” 

Keeping project budgets on track, even when timelines shift

After Julie delivered her recommendation, AJC offered to pause Julie’s engagement for a few months while the vendor fixed the technology.  This helped the client avoid incurring costs for a project manager during this window of time.  Upon re-engaging on the project, AJC budgeted a 20% buffer on PM work up front to cover any additional unexpected needs.  Ultimately, this buffer allowed Julie to provide an additional six weeks of support at the end of the project to ensure a smooth transition.  Even with the increased duration of the project, AJC did not need to use the entire buffer budget.

Maintaining objectivity amidst competing options

When Julie returned to the project, the new technology was ready to be delivered. However, the company still needed to ensure that operations could continue during cut-over to the new system. As new information came to light with the vendor, the entire team was considering changes to the installation plan at the client’s site.

Julie explained that at this critical point, her task as the project manager was to evaluate different layout options for how the current system could be replaced within the existing warehouse footprint. Julie worked with points of contact from each team in the company to go through the status of the project, taking into account any concerns they had about how the transition would impact their department.  In her recommendations, she provided pros and cons and cost estimates for each of the four scenarios.

In the end, the transition to the new technology was successful, thanks to Julie’s careful planning and flexibility.

Three Reasons to Hire an External Project Manager  1.  Experience anticipating and preparing for contingencies: While an internal project manager may be immersed in the weeds of daily operations, an external project manager brings a high-level view to anticipate potential outcomes and prepare for contingencies. An external project manager can determine hard deadlines to trigger a shift in plans for Plan B when necessary.   2.  Objectivity: An external project manager isn’t influenced by internal politics, giving them the ability to provide an impartial perspective that can be critical when organizations are planning systems that will fundamentally change their business processes.   3. Saving time and costs: An external project manager will save time and keep budgets on track, particularly when timelines shift due to external factors and flexibility is required.