Making an error in the workplace is inevitable. In fact, there’s a high probability many of us have made the same mistakes, and while at the time it can feel like an utter disaster it is the ability to recoup and learn from our failures that ultimately makes us better at our jobs.
Unfortunately, as project managers, even our smallest mistakes can have much larger implications further down the line, sending us over budget and past deadlines. Although each project will have its complex set of issues unique to it alone, across the industry there are some predictable and recurring factors we can address, that often doom a project to failure before it is gotten off the ground.
1. Assigning the Wrong Person to Lead the Project
Too often candidates are determined to lead projects due to factors other than their suitability or experience. Not that a lack of workplace experience cannot be made up of other factors, but taking charge of running a project is a difficult task, and often requires specific experiential skills or knowledge.
While it is true that skilled managers can lead across subject matters, for large scale projects with complex attributes, a greater number of team members, or a targeted technical knowledge requirement, it is much better to source the most experienced leader, rather than just the one who’s available.
Place as large a focus on assigning the correct manager for the job as you usually do to allocate resources, and place a higher priority on choosing a manager whose skill set more closely matches the project requirements.
2. Lack of Communication
Communication is essential in every relationship, but never more so than when between you and your project team. Not communicating properly, or at all, with your team and client, is one of the quickest ways to send your project to the grave.
By creating a culture of open communication, and setting out some simple communication strategies from the outset, such as regular check-ins and deliverable reviews, you and your team will have a clear view on your projects progression, and be able to proactively spot and resolve any issues coming up on the horizon.
Similarly, by engaging better with your team, you can keep your client in the loop with real-time project updates and avoid the awkward due date deliverable talk.
3. Mismanaging Team Members Skillsets
As important as it is to choose the right leader for the project, it is equally as important to choose the right team members and to take the time to understand exactly how their particular skillsets will fit into the larger scope of your project.
An excellent project manager analyses the project needs and utilizes his team in agreement with their strongest attributes.
If you do not have the luxury of handpicking a team to suit the project, then be sure to you sit down with your team before you begin and discuss their experience and competencies. Don’t be afraid to get specific. It is not enough to just know one of your team members has experience in web developing, filter out their specific disciplinary strengths and weaknesses and optimize their workload accordingly.
4. Too Broad a Scope
Anyone who’s been in the business long enough has experienced a project with a scope that appears to increase continually, while the price remains stagnant. Although this kind of scope creep where the project focus changes continuously over the length of the project should be in no way viewed as an inevitable part of the project process.
Scope creep often happens when the real outcome of the project is misunderstood by or is not consistent with the client, management, and the project team. This is why developing a clear scope statement at the outset of your project is so important.
A carefully thought out scope statement should include a clear and firm definition of the project goal, deliverables, what is both “in” and “out” of scope, and project constraints. Simultaneously, you must develop a system of strict, universal and well-documented approval processes so that any subsequent changes to scope, budget, schedule, resources, and risk are vetted and approved.
The scope statement should regularly be referred to for making future project decisions, and outlining a shared understanding of the project, and should never be created in isolation, but instead with the input of your entire team. Not only will they have knowledge, experience and valuable insights, but they will then be more aware of how and when to implement the process throughout the project
While it is true that project scope must have some degree of malleability placing checks and balances against changing any aspect of the scope allows you to make more considered decisions and control of rampant scope creep.
5. Over-Optimistic Scheduling
The importance of creating a realistic schedule for your team, and the project, cannot be understated.
It is too easy to create an over-optimistic schedule designed to impress the client but is completely infeasible. Not only is the probability of finishing the project with an acceptable, quality product very unlikely, but attempts to meet these dates will cause unnecessary stress for both you and your team, schedules to slip and throw your whole project out of whack.
The project schedule directs the project team on the what and when of their actions. For your client, it projects significant milestones and the due date of key deliverables, as such, it is important that you treat the creation of your schedule as a collaborative effort.
By checking in with your team on project effort and time estimates, and your clients own schedule, you can strike a compromise by which to meet your client's expectations, and your team has the breathing room to finish the project to a high quality.
6. Lack of Detail in the Project Plan
A project plan is one of the essential elements of a successful project outcome, yet the most misunderstood when it comes to project management.
A project plan does not just mean ‘project timeline.' While an expected chronology of your project is a major component of your plan, a project plan requires a much deeper level of information regarding all elements necessary to the planning process from the specification of the new project to the budget, schedule, and quality metrics.
When done correctly, a project plan acts your very own route planner. By providing insufficient detail in your project plan, you are not only opening your team for confusion about the full requirements of their time or tasks but leaving yourself without clearly defined metrics to measure the success of your project and management strategies.
Take the time before you start your project to identify all the activities and related tasks required to meet the project's scope statement successfully and all your project deliverables including the estimated time duration and the assignment of a resource that will be held responsible for completing each task. Keep in mind, that the plan you make at the start may not be the one you finish with, but learning to create a clear project plan and knowing how to discuss its key components is crucial to your project’s success.
7. Not Recognizing Your Team’s Successes
Team morale and productivity go hand in hand, and refusing to recognize your team’s successes, often has a detrimental effect on both. Sometimes it is too easy to focus on the end game, metrics, and numbers, and forget the employee that pushed them to success.
The small successes, the short-term objectives, and daily goals, any extra effort to contribute to advancing the team’s mission is, where the individual shines, and should be celebrated.
Develop a performance review system as part of your project management plan, and ensure that performance on projects is measured, reviewed and recognized as equally as it is in their day to day responsibilities.
8. The Wrong Project Structure Used
Project management is not one size fits all, and while you may have had great success with a particular project structure before, it is dangerous to get too comfortable with one approach and ignore each project’s variables.
Let’s take size, project teams with a larger number of individuals, around 8 or above, will find it difficult to report to the same project manager. Just as, you, the project manager will find it overly challenging to maintain communication and follow ups with too many team members reporting directly to you. If parts of the project are undertaken in different regions of the country, communications may suffer from a lack of clarity and jar with the larger project structure.
It is key to assess each project individually and adapt communication strategies and reporting protocols to suit each new approach.
It may be useful to educate yourself and your team in umbrella project management methodologies that teach adaptable, industry standard project structures, so each project structure retains an efficient cohesiveness and familiarity.
9. Being Reactive Instead of Proactive
Your project is running correctly, aligning with your scope and project plan, but then something unexpected comes along and disaster hits. The project gets derailed. Even though you and your team mobilize quickly, identifying the best options and solutions based on experience, you have got no opportunity, nor time, to test these solutions viability. Acting reactively, management by crisis only leaves your project vulnerable to further failure.
Risk Management is the process of identifying, analyzing and responding to risk factors throughout the life of a project, and developing a stable basis for decision making in regards to those risks. A robust risk assessment provides controls for possible future events and is proactive rather than reactive.
While it is impossible to know every likelihood of every potential occurrence, by undertaking a thorough risk assessment before you execute your project plan, and continuously re-focusing that assessment throughout your project, you can reduce the likelihood of a disastrous event occurring, as well as its impact.
10. Being Resistant to Change
Although most this article has been spent pontificating about the importance of preparedness, clarity, and structure, the ability to be flexible and adaptive are qualities intrinsic to your project's success.
Despite your extensive risk management and project planning, it’s likely the functionality of your project is going to change daily, whether it’s the small things such as missed meetings, employee absence, or a change in direction that requires you to develop a new approach or resource, and being rigid about your processes only ensures that your project is unlikely to see completion.
Being flexible isn’t something you can plan for. Remember that your project is an ongoing process, keep an open mind, and trust that you and your team will be competent enough to come up with a suitable solution.