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  • Writer's pictureBrian Davidson, PMP, CSM

Navigating the Obstacles in Project Activities: The Role of Individual Navigation Plans

Individual activities or deliverables constitute the building blocks of any project. By applying a new tool - The Navigation Plan - defined in the book, The Project Leader, we enhance the robustness of the project and increase its chances of success. Here's how it can be done.

The Micro-Level Application of the Navigation Plan

The Navigation Plan, which maps out assumptions, potential obstacles, and mitigating actions, can be an equally effective tool at the micro level. While the plan in its entirety allows for a broad overview of the project, breaking it down per task or deliverable presents a more granular perspective, equipping project teams with actionable insights for every step of their project journey.


Potential Obstacle


List one assumption you are making about this activity

Describe what obstacle may arise if this assumption is not true

Identify at least one action that you can take now to validate the assumption or take corrective action if found to be not true.

Let's further break down how each column of the Navigation Plan can be used at an activity or deliverable level:

Column 1: Assumptions

In this column, the team member responsible for the activity or deliverable must outline the assumption(s) they are making about their specific task. This step requires a deep understanding of the activity and critical thinking to identify what assumptions are underlying their approach. These assumptions might relate to the availability of resources, time required, technology needed, or the cooperation of other team members or stakeholders.

Column 2: Potential Obstacles

For every assumption outlined, the team member needs to identify potential obstacles that could arise if that assumption were not true. This requires some creative and worst-case scenario thinking. It's not about being pessimistic, but being prepared. For example, if the assumption is that a required resource will be available when needed, the potential obstacle could be that the resource is unexpectedly unavailable or delayed.

Column 3: Clear Actions

The final column requires the team member to outline a clear action that they can take to mitigate the risk of the potential obstacle from occurring. This action should be as concrete as possible. Using the earlier example, the action might be to secure the resource well in advance or have an alternative resource in place.

Real-World Example

The table below provides a real-world example of a Navigation Plan. In this example, the activity owner is evaluating assumptions and potential obstacles related to their assigned major activity - select vendor product. Ultimately, the activity owner must ensure the team selects a vendor product that meets the needs of the project and organization.


Potential Obstacle


The vendor product selected will meet the needs for our project

The team selects a vendor product based on sales personality, presentation quality, or other aspects that don't directly relate to how well the product will work for our project.

Write up a first draft outline of the primary product functionality and requirements needed by the project.

Then, interview the team and at least one subject matter expert to update/inform the final draft list of product requirements.

The team will know how to use the vendor product purchased.

After completing the purchase, the team is not able to successfully use the product, which delays the project.

Inquire with vendor about initial training services and/or resources.

Reseach online reviews or interview other customers to learn how difficult the product is to learn.

The potential vendor(s) will be responsive to our inquiries.

The vendor is not responsive. Although interested, the main contact is disorganized, slow to respond, etc.

Fill out the vendor sales contact form today to get the process started.

Send 2 pertinent requests to the vendor contact to evaluate their responsiveness early on.


The Benefits of Individual Navigation Plans

This granular application of the Navigation Plan offers several benefits:

  • Improves Task Ownership: When team members create a Navigation Plan for their individual activities, they take greater ownership of their tasks. This sense of ownership not only enhances their commitment and motivation but also improves their performance.

  • Enhances Risk Management: This process allows potential risks to be identified and mitigated at the micro level, leading to better risk management and reduced project failure.

  • Facilitates Better Communication: Navigation Plans can serve as a communication tool within the team, helping to ensure that everyone is on the same page about potential obstacles and the actions needed to mitigate them.

  • Promotes Continuous Learning: As team members work through their individual Navigation Plans, they can learn from any incorrect assumptions, helping them make better assumptions in the future.


The Navigation Plan, when applied to individual activities or deliverables, can prove to be a powerful tool in the project management toolkit. It not only allows for a proactive approach to obstacle management but also empowers team members by giving them ownership of their tasks and potential obstacles.

Remember, every successful project is a collection of successful activities. By focusing on each building block and navigating its unique obstacles, project teams can strengthen the entire structure and pave the way to project success. Just as a seasoned sailor navigates the sea one wave at a time, so must a project team member navigate their project—one activity at a time.

The next time you break down your project into individual activities or deliverables, don't forget to apply the Navigation Plan to each one. It’s the equivalent of giving each team member their own compass and map, empowering them to navigate the project landscape with confidence and efficiency.

A project without obstacles is a myth. But a project where obstacles are identified, managed, and overcome with grace is a reality within reach. And it all starts with a Navigation Plan at the individual activity level. Be proactive, be prepared, and most importantly, be ready to navigate. Remember, every great navigator is also a great problem solver. Happy Navigating!


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