Are you investigating anything? If you’re a police officer or a civilian investigator then the answer is, “Of course I am, what else do you think I do all day?”. And what is an investigation? It is a project. A project, as defined by the Project Management Institute, is a ‘temporary endeavour with a start and finish undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.’ You can take up the semantics, but while the finish may be a court date or ‘never’, this definition applies.
But you’re not a Project Manager. You haven’t been trained to manage projects. Well, you have been told how to conduct investigations (a bit), but you haven’t had it put to you as a project – to which Project Management method can (to some degree) be applied. But I’m not going to do that here – this article is about why projects fail, and therefore what challenges you can expect in investigations and other police work.
The challenges are routine. They happen in all projects. They include but are not restricted to:
Lack of communication – over-reliance on immediate responses to e-mail for a start. We used to use the phone, and although we now have one at our hands all the time we still tend to communicate through a medium that invites delay. Not to mention that it creates a HUGE disclosure nightmare…… Clarity in demands is an essential skill.
Unrealistic timelines – everything in policing has an artificial, poorly considered deadline. All paper must be submitted by the end of a tour, even if it isn’t going anywhere else for 3 days over a weekend.
Too many competing priorities – there is a huge difference in prioritisation capability between the front line and a specialist department, but their approaches are pretty much expected to be the same.
Poor planning – precisely because there are too many priorities, managing them is a problem. Particularly as (my beef here) no one is taught how to manage them. They are just expected to do that.
It is true that we have Standard Operating Procedures, which outline actions that we undertake that smooth the flow – do this, then that, consider this, dismiss that, and so on. But these SOPs are a template within which the aforementioned challenges arise. No SOP can address every problem, and new problems create new SOPs for the next job, which creates its own challenges ad infinitum.
All that said, though, there are some things an individual can do to mitigate all the above challenges.
Communication – use the phone, backed up by other media. Set a task, explain the expectation, agree deadlines based on two-way communication and respect for each others’ needs. (Chapter 12)
Competing priorities – objectively look at the competing tasks and assess them properly. Use Must, Should and Could assessment, and act accordingly. And be willing to do those Coulds in the gaps between the Musts and Shoulds, when you can (as outlined in the book), because they never, ever go away. (Chapter 4)
Timelines – understand the systems within which the timelines exist and use that knowledge. Plan that ‘over the weekend’ paperwork for arrival in the post tray for Monday, if doing it on Friday is a challenge. (Chapter 11)
Planning – learn to manage your time. No one teaches this properly, so invest some time and money and learn some methods for ensuring you can do and be your best as much as possible. People who say, “I don’t have time” frequently do so while chatting at the proverbial water fountain. (Chapter 18 and all the others, too.)
And if you really want to delve more deeply, read about Project Management Method. You might find that doing so frees up time so you can spend a bit more stress-free time on Wants while getting the Musts (etc) done effectively and efficiently.