Project management is truly a juggling act. One day you have to deal with a tough client, the next day the team members have not completed the assigned tasks, then you end each day or week having to report everything back to your manager. The dynamics of any particular project change on a daily basis, not to mention you are most likely managing multiple projects, but this is exactly what keeps it exciting and keeps us in the game.
I work with several Project Managers and project teams. Below are the most common mistakes I repetitively witness, along with some ideas on how you can address them. This is absolutely nothing groundbreaking or new, but most of the time it is the basics that we so easily bypass when caught up in our game of PMing.
1. Not Enough Prep
Gathering essential requirements for the project ahead of time is crucial to effective and accurate planning. During the initiation phases of the project, meeting with the customer to define their vision, goals, and expectations is essential to successful execution. So often the requirements are not fully understood and mapped out; or the right questions are not being asked, which leads to a major disconnect when it is too late. Remember that as a project manager, you are responsible for accurately and fully defining the scope the project, and ultimately the customer is relying on you to do so. Take the time and exhaust the details to effectively plan. Your client will appreciate it in the long run.
2. Wrong Place, Wrong People
Having the right people involved from the very first conversation is mandatory, or else you are wasting your time. During the first customer meeting, where the requirements of the project will be discussed, make an effort to have all the representatives needed in that room. I cannot tell you how many times we have started in one direction based on the opinions of those that had little to no say on the final decision. The last thing you want to happen is committing to one thing, only find out that the management expectations vary or are completely disjointed from what you have planned. You end up not delivering on-time and it creates a lot of unnecessary confusion and time waste. It is your responsibility to make sure the right people are involved, and that means asking the question “Who are ALL the people that need to be included?”
3. Living on Instinct
If you do not have a project schedule for every single one of your projects, then that is absolutely priority number one. Stop reading right now, and get busy learning how to master the project schedule. Soon you will be amazed how much easier life is, after getting past the annoyance of having to track on “paper” everything that you are doing. As a PM you should be walking, breathing and thinking about the schedule and how the teams are performing to it. Neglecting to create one and running your project ad-hoc is a recipe for disaster. Don’t have time – invest in a project analyst. I promise it will do wonders for your projects, your reporting….your sanity.
4. Over-Promising and Under Delivering
Setting your client’s expectations from the beginning is the difference between being a hero and being a disappointment. Please understand when I say customer, that could be your boss, another department, a company client, or a colleague. Unless you are working in the realm of R&D, customers know what they want and are very clear on their expectations. After you have properly done your due diligence on requirements gathering, you MUST schedule a time to review in the schedule, and clarify after which no more changes will be accepted. If new changes need to be made, delivery dates need to move out, and/or project budget needs to accommodate the newly introduced effort. This is not a surprise party. Be crystal clear, and get started on the right foot.
5. Don’t Stop to Smell the Roses
Ok, so taking the time to document lessons learned and close out the project aren’t exactly the analogy you were thinking, but they are vital to your continued improvement and success. If you have made it past #3, this is by far the most important one. As they say, “Insanity is doing the same things, expecting a different result.” During the project cycle there are plenty of opportunities to learn about working with different types of clients, overcoming challenges faced, to essentially enabling the next team to learn from it and refine the process. Even though every project is unique, there are still common themes that tie all projects together. It will really help you and your organization better understand its strength and weaknesses as well as better proactively manage projects.