They execute projects on time, within the approved budget. They meet project requirements with accountability and sincerity. They lead from the front, as strategic business partners. Successful project managers, an asset to any IT organization, do all this…and a lot more!
While there are many recommendations on ‘things to do’ to become an effective project manager, it’s not common to discuss mistakes that can undo all the good work. Even with the best of technical skills and project management software, things can – and they do – go wrong.
Here’s looking at eight common mistakes that can wreck your project management career:
Ignoring the kickoff and closeout
Project managers are always pressed for time. So, it’s understandable when they sometimes skim over meetings and discussions. However, the kickoff meeting for any project demands 100% dedication and enthusiasm. As the maiden project meeting, it’s an ideal platform to get all the stakeholders together, share common goals, set expectations, establish guidelines, and start on a positive note. Once everybody is on the same page, it’s easier to execute the project efficiently.
Similarly, on completion of the project, all stakeholders need to meet as a team to discuss the lessons learned. While success calls for celebration, failures demand introspection. Insights can be documented and shared across the organization; projects can be mined for best practices. A smart project manager discerns the importance of a closeout meeting.
Delegating without prudence
One of the most crucial tasks of a project manager is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, and delegate tasks and responsibilities accordingly. It’s not just about assigning the right tasks – in the right amount – to the right people, but also about trusting them to do the job.
Effective delegation paves the way for collaborative thinking, innovative strategizing and effective problem-solving. Successful project managers don’t micromanage, yet they manage to stay regularly updated on the team’s progress.
Treating people like machines
People management is at the core of project management. Unlike machines, human beings have emotions, which can either aid or come in the way of their work. A good project manager is someone who recognizes this.
Sponsors, team members, executives, suppliers and all stakeholders deserve respect. A more humane attitude at work is known to enhance productivity and boost team morale. Acknowledge hard work, praise accomplishments and be constructive with criticism. The rule of thumb is to give due applause in public and have corrective conversations in private.
Overlooking regular conversations
A lot can happen over everyday chats. From sharing information and updating stakeholders to receiving valuable feedback and lining up resources, regular conversations facilitate a healthy exchange of ideas and facts. While emails are perfect for short messages and uploading information, they cannot ever be a substitute for face-to-face talks.
Sadly, caught in the midst of project deadlines and bottom lines, most team meetings turn into dreary affairs that add little value to work. The key is to ensure that every meeting has an agenda, stays on tracks, and is followed-up by an email that lists the takeaways and decisions. Similarly, project documentation – status reporting, communication plans, scope changes, project charters – needs to be updated frequently, ensuring that everyone is in the loop. A project manager who messes up on this front is definitely asking for trouble.
Buckling under pressure
Often, customers demand changes that don’t align with the product vision. The product manager’s job is not to blindly comply with everything the customer says. Her job is to communicate effectively to the customer the consequences and implications of the scope creep. Because seemingly innocuous change requests and added features can strain resources, threaten timelines and affect project success.
When things go wrong, it’s best to own up to mistakes – there’s no one else to blame. Anticipating the worst-case scenario and having contingency plans for risks and uncertainties are part of a project manager’s job profile. Don’t play the victim and be overwhelmed by the constant fire-fighting, deadline pressures and mounting expectations at work. Instead, hone your time management skills. Devise a system that helps identify top priorities, eliminate time-wasters, and dodge unproductive processes that wear you out.
Disregard business readiness
Projects, typically, bring about organisational change. A project manager needs to assess the readiness for this change. How will it affect the customers, employees and the business?
You need to define and plan for business readiness as well as identify and mitigate the barriers to the projected change. Failure to undertake such change management activities is one of the major reasons for project failure, sometimes even when the project is completed on time and within budget.
Forget about benefit realisation
A successful project manager is someone who can maximise the realization of benefits. He looks at benefit realization as an integral part of the organizational vision/strategy. In most cases, a statement of expected benefits is included right at the start to gain approval from the senior management for the project. And, once the project is complete, it’s a project manager’s job to determine whether the expected benefits were realized.
A good project manager always tracks and includes the realizable benefits as part of the bigger project management plan. For instance, he’s the first to ask how a risk mitigation strategy or change request will impact the benefit realization of the project.
Trying to win the popularity vote
They say it’s lonely at the top. As a project manager, you have to ask for the opinions and views of all team members and stakeholders. However, the final decision has to be yours; the buck stops at you. Sometimes, unpopular decisions may have to be taken keeping the best interest of the project and the organization in mind.
Decision-making is an integral part of project management. Knowing that the majority is not always right and having the conviction to walk the talk is what makes a successful project manager stand apart. You simply can’t please them all!
To wrap it up
It’s not easy to be a project manager. Especially a successful project manager in an IT organization. There are new challenges, old bottlenecks, unappreciative stakeholders, pesky customers, and cold colleagues to boot. Yet the satisfaction of completing a project within the time and budget, in keeping with the project vision and strategy, is beyond words.
The formula to success, experts concur, is actually simple: Have a plan, get everybody on board, be a team player, value time and lead by example. Worth a try, don’t you think?