The “One List” Myth

All over the corporate world there’s a cry for “one list.” Keeping track of projects and progress made against them is a universal problem. No matter how many hours are spent on list making and sending them out across the org, people still feel they’re out of the loop.

Marketing has a list (or several lists). IT has a list. Advertising has a list. The PMO has a list. It’s list mania. Why can’t we have one list? It would be so much easier. Everyone would see the same projects in the same prioritization order and know exactly where things stood. I know a firm that used to have a Sacred Seven list, but there were usually eleven or twelve on it. Seems like such a simple thing doesn’t it.

Well I’m here break the news that having one list is a myth. It’s not possible, especially if you work in a large corporation. Here’s why.

  • The data companies require to track projects could not possibility be crammed onto one list. It would be unreadable.
  • Teams or departments need to track the things most important to them and they’re most likely not the things other areas track.
  • People process and absorb information in different ways. Visual people like gantt and pie charts. Others prefer dense spreadsheets, and everybody wants things sorted differently.
  • Senior executives don’t want all the detail, but project managers need it all.
  • The communication necessary to keep that master list updated would consume hundreds of hours and hundreds of people.

So what should we do about it? First of all stop saying,”It would be great if we had everything on one list.” That’s what we’ve been saying for years and it’s yet to happen. Next, stop being frustrated by it. I repeat, it’s not going to happen.

Here are some things that might help. Don’t work from several lists. Identify the one or two that most closely align to your responsibilities and is easiest for you to understand. It’s completely fine to make a list of your own and operate from that. The most important thing is to have a list of your most critical projects. By critical I mean the projects you promised your boss you would launch this month, or quarter, or year. That’s the most important list and arguably, the only one that matters. You should review other lists from time to time and take note of the ones that will impact you in some way. You don’t want to be surprised by someone coming to you and asking for a deliverable and you haven’t even started on it.

One more thing. You will always be working on things not on any list. That’s completely fine. Lists are about what must be delivered, not an inventory of everything that will be delivered. Make a note of everything you accomplish, yes on another list. That’s what you’ll use when you write your self-evaluation at year end.

Lists are important, but not as important as making progress on your projects. Good luck.

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