Are we out of the woods yet?

Managed woodland and a welcome signpost in Cumbria. Legal framework still applies here!

I wasn’t expecting music at the EVA21 conference this week, but it was there and used very effectively to bring the world of projects to life.

Sarah Shute gave an interesting talk about the importance of legal issues to the project manager. There was an excellent set of clear slides with key points to remember and good advice. However, it Sarah’s was her interpretation of a Taylor Swift song which captured the audience’s attention with Sarah’s on screen lyrics showing how the theme relates to the world of project controls.

Taylor Swift’s song ‘Are we out of the woods yet?’ is about a sense of insecurity experienced during a troubled relationship. It tells the story of incidents in a relationship where the couple get through. After each one, they wonder if they are ‘out of the woods yet’. Will they ever get out of the woods and into a calmer stage of the relationship? It’s not certain. What has brought them ‘into the woods’ is not stated but it is proving very difficult to find a way out.

We all know the feeling of being lost in the woods and searching for a way out. Sarah’s revised the song lyrics to reflect a dialogue between a project manager and the project controller during a project. Evidently some kind of ‘fix’ has been done during the planning to make the schedule ‘fit’ and look good on the surface. However, the schedule is ‘built to fall apart’ and this happens during the project. The project ‘map’ is not accurate and the project ends up ‘in the woods’. The constant dialogue ‘are we out of the woods yet?’, ‘are we in the clear yet?’ reflecting a tense project atmosphere as the project stumble onwards through the issues encountered and reflect on what has led them into this state.

Poor practice or mistakes not spotted during project planning inevitably result in problems with project execution and control. One mistake can lead to another as the project team try to regain control in a very challenging environment. The main message of Sarah’s presentation was that the project manager’s legal awareness can help keep the project ‘out of the woods’ or help find a way out if the project is already having problems. She listed a range of legal risks which can embroil the project and gave top tips for keeping ‘in the clear’ and avoiding getting into the legal ‘woods’ in the first place.

Project managers can benefit from more training and support on legal issues and should not be afraid to seek advice from others who have more expertise and knowledge of this territory. Well done and thanks Sarah Schutte and credit to Taylor Swift for helping us to get some insight into a difficult topic and enabling lively discussion.




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