046 – Work the plan and work with the people

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —August 26, 2019
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling, Podcast

Luke Brown shares the story of how his mantra went from ‘plan the work, work the plan’ to ‘plan the work and work with the people’ and illustrates the importance of building strong relationships at work.

3 fighter jets

In this episode of Anecdotally Speaking, we welcome another guest! Luke Brown has been a friend of Mark’s for many years. He joins us to share a story from his time working as a project manager for the Australian Defence Force.
Luke has successfully run multiple multi-million dollar aircraft acquisition projects. There were, however, three projects at the beginning of his career which didn’t go according to plan. They led him to realise that there was more to project management than what he had learned through his studies, and caused him to change his mantra from ‘plan the work, work the plan’ to ‘plan the work and work with the people.’

For your storybank

Tags: failure, hard work, leadership, learning, persistence, project management, relationships

After working as an airforce engineer for quite some time, Luke Brown decided he would like to try his hand at project management. His first roles were in managing aircraft acquisition projects.

He was determined to be successful, so enrolled in a few project management courses. He learned that if he had a strong project plan and a detailed schedule, he would succeed.

So, for his first project, he worked hard on getting his project plan and schedule right. But, within a couple of years, the project started to go off the rails. They were falling behind schedule. 

Luke struggled to understand why. He thought he had put everything in place.

He asked a few senior executives why they thought the project hadn’t run to plan.

“You need a better plan and a more detailed schedule,” they told him.

For his next project, he was determined to do better. He put more work into creating the perfect project plan and a more detailed schedule. He talked through them more carefully and took more time breaking down each component. But, once again, the project went off track. They weren’t meeting their performance targets, and disagreements were occurring.

Again, he asked senior execs what had gone wrong.

“You needed a better schedule and a better plan. You should have rewritten the plan when you started to fall behind.”

For his third project, he wasn’t going to get it wrong. Luke worked side-by-side with the team. He held weekly reviews and monthly deep dives. He also conducted regular, detailed risk analyses. But, again, the project went off track.

He started to think, “Maybe it’s not me, my plan or my schedule. Maybe there’s something more to it.” His mantra of ‘plan the work, work the plan’ wasn’t working.

He then sought out people within his organisation who had successfully managed difficult projects and asked for their advice.

They didn’t tell him he needed a stronger plan or a more detailed schedule. Instead, they told him that they had succeeded because they had built strong relationships. They had gotten to know their broader teams, including their contractors, and as a result, they all worked well together.

At the same time, he enrolled in a masters in complex project management. It placed much more of an emphasis on teams and relationships and reinforced the advice he had received.

He soon found himself managing a project that was later in its life cycle. The project had fallen behind schedule due to a dispute with a contractor. It had been labeled a ‘major project of concern.’

Within about a year, the project was back on track. Within two years, the project had delivered most of its capability. Luke had turned the project around with his new mantra, ‘plan the work and work with the people.’

Podcast transcript coming soon!

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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