Whenever you take on a project, you are taking on some level of risk — a chance that the project might fail.
No one is perfect, not even highly trained project managers; but you do have a responsibility to do all you can to ensure your project doesn’t fail. After all, your business is counting on this to work. When you propose a project, you are essentially promising to execute it successfully, and failure to do so for any reason will reflect poorly on you. While you can only control your part, careful planning and strong leadership can go a long way in ensuring the success of a project.
Here are some tactics successful project managers use to avoid failure:
Know What Causes Failure
In order to avoid failure, you first have to have an understanding of what most often causes project failure. Some common reasons are: lack of communication, poor planning or risk management, or a lack of discipline. Bringing a project to successful completion is hard work and requires someone who’s willing to roll up their sleeves and stick with it, meticulously, until the end.
But don’t just look at general reasons that any project might fail. Look at the weak points within your own organization. If you’ve been there for some time, you may already have an idea of the pitfalls into which your workplace tends to fall. If not, keep your eyes open. It’s good to know your specific weaknesses so that you can think of a way to avoid or strengthen them.
Enhance Your Strengths
Strong management is an absolute must for successful project management. If the project manager isn’t up to the task, it’s doomed from the start. Part of this is in knowing the weaknesses of your team and your organization. Another part of this is in knowing your team’s strengths, and how to best bring out those strengths to finish a project efficiently and successfully.
Being a project manager is more than just overseeing the project. It’s also motivating those working on it. Again, projects require strong discipline. Lead by example with your own strength of discipline and encourage that in your team. If you can bring the best out of a good team, they’ll be strong enough to handle any obstacles that your project throws their way.
Too often, project managers don’t dedicate enough time to planning. Maybe this comes from over eagerness to get started, or maybe project managers and stakeholders worry that if you’re planning, you’re not actively working towards the goal. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If it’s done right, planning is at least half the work. Before you begin putting your project into action, you should have every nuance planned. What is your strategy to finish the project? How do you plan to minimize risk at each step of the way? What is your goal at every milestone and how can you best reach it?
Some people become frustrated and bogged down by spending too much time in planning, but this shouldn’t be a problem for a project manager. It’s your job to be able to look at the big picture. If you have a solid, thoroughly thought out plan, the execution of the project should be smooth and easy. Think of planning like a garden stream: with the path already set, the water will naturally flow in that direction.
Keep It Realistic
Many projects begin in an optimistic light…perhaps more optimistic than they should be in reality. In excitement, it’s easy to set too-short deadlines or over the top goals. Don’t let eagerness determine your goals. Take a step back and look at this project and your team realistically. Don’t think about what you want to achieve here, but what you can feasibly achieve and give yourself enough time to achieve that. You may want to impress stakeholders with goals and timeframes that wow, but they’ll be more impressed in the end with a project successfully and realistically managed.
Don’t trust anything to memory or verbal conversations. Everything to do with your project needs to be written down and stored in one place. This could be a log that you keep or a project management software, and the log itself will depend on the size and scope of the project. You should have your progress tracked, an index of your performance so far, and all of the goals you’re striving to reach or have reached. This will make it easier, too, in case you need to adjust goals or deadlines. The more you track, the better prepared you are.
Keep the work stream running smoothly with open and available communication. You should communicate regularly with everyone involved in this project, and encourage others involved to do the same. This will keep stakeholders from worrying about the status of the project and keep the team encouraged and knowledgeable. Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings and little mistakes that can snowball into big failures as the project goes on. As we discussed before, it’s one of the biggest culprits when it comes to project failure. Avoid it by making sure everyone has a part in tracking progress and keeping everyone posted regularly.
Expect the Unexpected
Even with careful planning, you may hit a curveball along the way that threatens to set back or harm your project. You can’t account for everything, so you should definitely prepare to hit an unexpected roadblock along the way. Maybe this means giving the budget a little padding in case of trouble or having a risk strategy in place. Maybe this means having a plan B in case plan A falls through. But no matter what, you should expect to be surprised at some point along the way.
Life isn’t perfect, business isn’t perfect, and you should probably expect that your project won’t be perfect, either. However, a prepared project manager who knows their team and communicates thoroughly can ensure that the project weathers any storm and ends successfully.