In any successful business environment, projects need to be consistently brought in on time and — ideally — under budget. This can bring a tremendous amount of pressure to bear on the team, who need to be effectively managed to meet the demands of the task.
This is where good project management enters the picture. Get it right from the start and you can proceed at an orderly pace, giving workers a chance to meet their objectives to the best of their ability. Misjudge requirements and situations, and you could experience a snowball effect that accumulates towards the end of the project.
So, what are the most common mistakes project managers make — and more importantly, how can you avoid them?
Not setting effective requirements
Though it can be time-consuming, the initial planning stages are vital for both the project team and the stakeholders to know what to expect and when.
Without a clear set of requirements, it can be difficult to steer a project in the right direction, especially as many of these vital issues only surface later on in a project if the right questions are not asked at the very beginning.
This is a collaborative process between the project manager, their team and the stakeholders. Discussion should be open and relaxed, using the stakeholder’s knowledge of their issue, with the team’s technical knowledge to come up with a suitable solution that solves the issue and meets the stakeholder’s expectations.
Key questions that a good project manager will ask to create an effective requirements list include:
- What problem should be addressed by the project and why?
- Is this the best way to address the issue?
- Is this project the best use of currently available resources?
- What are the risks associated with this project and do the benefits of it outweigh the risks?
- Is there adequate support to successfully complete the project on time and within budget?
- How will the success of the project be defined and measured?
Concentrating on the end goal
Though coming up with a solution to a problem is the purpose behind any project, how can you tell if this has been achieved? Setting effective requirements as described above is a start, but it’s only one part of managing your project effectively.
Getting to the end goal requires a strong and detailed plan, not only to ensure that the project meets its requirements – or scope – but that the project itself can be split into manageable tasks and activities. It will also help a project manager to work out timings and assign the required resources.
Without an effective plan, it can be difficult to keep your team committed and on schedule because they cannot be certain where they are versus where they should be. This leads to at best a delayed project, at worst a project that does not meet the stakeholder’s expectations.
The Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) cycle is perfect for assisting with the creation of an effective plan:
- Plan what you are doing
- Do what you said you would do
- Check that you did it right
- Act on anything that went wrong to avoid errors of the same nature in future
Each step in the PDCA cycle supports the one following it, facilitating continual improvement. The cycle can also be applied to the project as a whole, as well as each of the tasks under it.
PDCA also forms the structure of management systems such as ISO 9001 – an internationally recognised standard that ensures internal and customer handling processes meet in-house metrics for performance. If your staff are accustomed to following set procedures, and have a handbook they can refer back to, everything from the day-to-day running of the company, to the efficiency of individual projects, is improved.
Skipping risk analysis
When it comes to the execution of any project plan, there will always be unforeseen difficulties. It is actually the mark of an inexperienced project manager to ignore this possibility until the worst happens. All projects come with some risks and to ignore them early on is effectively sticking your head in the sand – leaving all the work needed to address them for later stages when time is likely to be at even more of a premium.
Risk analysis pays back significantly throughout a project, particularly if something goes wrong. You can also share your risk analysis with the project sponsor so that you can fully prepare and get buy-in from them, allowing for additional resources and adjusted acceptance criteria.
By identifying risks and then prioritising them on probability and impact using a risk matrix, a team can develop a list of mitigation strategies and backup plans.
Each of the individuals in a team is usually an expert in their own area – so make sure you leverage this accordingly. Give them breathing space when it comes to finding solutions to the challenges you identify through risk analysis, as well as those they meet along the way. If you want to ensure your project is the best it can be, then you must let team members own their key decisions.
Risk analysis is something that should be considered in all areas of business. The ISO 31000 Standard can help with this, allowing a business to set up a management system that builds risk management into all areas of an organisation, from individual projects, through to business strategy.
Focusing on the project but not your team
A big part of project management is understanding that you cannot accomplish your projects without a good team, even with the most comprehensive project plan.
Make sure that your team have the skills and training to perform the tasks asked of them and create a culture where if a person does not have the skills, they feel confident enough to ask for extra training without feeling singled out or that they will be punished for revealing a potential weakness.
Trust is a huge part of any interpersonal relationship – no one performs well when they feel they are under constant scrutiny. A good manager not only knows how to delegate, but also gives an individual the space to complete the task in the way they work best. Micro-managing undermines your team and can even have the knock-on effect of compromising the end result of their work. People always make mistakes, and this is a vital part of the learning process. The biggest mistake is expecting perfection from your team.
What about the mindset of your team members? Take the time to get to know what they think about the project – dreams and fears both included. If you can win hearts and minds early on, or better still inspire and excite with your own energy, then you are kicking off the project journey right. As you get further down the road, this exercise will give you a brilliant resource when it comes to re-motivating the team. Don’t forget to check in with them periodically to not only handle problems as they happen, but to also show your support.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that performance indicators, employee metrics and all kinds of statistics form a rod for your staff’s back. In fact, the opposite is true. Individuals are more productive and their work is of a higher quality when they have standardised systems of improvement that help them grow and understand their role.
Withholding information and progress reports
Everyone loves to share the good news about a project’s progress, but team members need to hear about failings and problems too. Keeping information and feedback away from the team creates an us-and-them mentality where they’ll feel you are not being completely straight with them.
Instead build a culture of sharing in your team and you will receive support and solutions to your failings, encouraging growth from challenge. There is no better feeling in life than succeeding — particularly when that success involves overcoming huge difficulties, which is one of the sweetest moments you can experience in business.
Remember that project management is a process, not a set of milestones or deadlines set in the sand. Adaptability and evolution are the footprint of excellence. Your team should function as a single entity, with everyone pulling together to create a sum where the whole is greater than the parts.
To achieve this, it is essential to keep communication lines open, have clearly defined goals and an atmosphere of positivity and confidence where success is not only possible, but inevitable.
Originally published on Thursday, July 14th, 2016 by Michelle W.