Taking the Initiative: A Lesson in Project Management

With project management, the adage "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission" can sometimes hold a kernel of truth. While this might sound like a reckless approach, I learned through a challenging experience that there are moments when taking the initiative is not just beneficial, but necessary.

At one company where I worked, there was a clear distinction between project and product management. This separation of roles was something I believed in and respected. However, I found myself managing a project that had been passed from one project and product manager to another until it landed in my lap. The project was in trouble, and to complicate matters, some of the key personnel had moved on to other companies, leaving me without their insights.

My instructions were clear: stick to project management and leave product management to the designated product manager. Our deadline was looming, and I relied on the product manager to set the priorities. However, there was an external vendor that we were supposed to consult for the project requirements. Due to my strict instructions, I could only remind the product manager to reach out to the vendor, but each time I did, I was told that the vendor was unresponsive.

The situation came to a head when the product manager went on vacation. Seizing the opportunity, I contacted the vendor directly. To my dismay, they were extremely unhappy. They had been hired months before but had heard nothing from us, leading them to assume the project had been shelved. It turned out that the product manager had not attempted to contact them at all, and they responded to my email in less than an hour.

Through discussions with the vendor, we realized that our priorities were completely misaligned. This revelation forced us to undertake emergency work to get the various engineering teams on the same page. It was a monumental effort, but we managed to pull off what seemed like a minor miracle, completing all the necessary work within six weeks, just in time for the deadline.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes, taking the initiative is essential, even if it means stepping outside the boundaries of your designated role. Had I reached out to the consultants earlier, after my first failed attempt with the product manager, we could have avoided a crisis. It's tough lessons like these that stick with you, shaping your approach to future projects. I learned that sometimes, seeking forgiveness instead of permission is not just a choice, but a necessity.

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