A well-managed project can often seem as impossible as a happily-cantering, rainbow unicorn. Far more frequent are the projects heading towards certain disaster that inexplicably manage to cross the finish line (though these projects are closer to dead-on-arrival, than successful completion); and the projects that simply fail. According to PMI, less than 2/3 of projects meet their goals and business intents, and about 17 percent of projects outright fail.
So what separates a well-managed project from the project scenarios just described? How do we find that elusive rainbow unicorn? While no amount of preparation, commitment, experience, etc. can guarantee a project’s success, there are a few musts that will increase the likelihood of achieving a well-managed project.
1) Establish a project charter. The importance of a project charter cannot be overstated. Seriously. If it weren’t obnoxious I would bold, italicize, highlight, and do anything else I could to demonstrate the criticality of a project charter. Yet, despite how necessary a project charter is, many teams, in an often misguided attempt to “hit the ground running” skip right over creating a project charter. Project charters can take many forms, thus making it an artifact that is easily adaptable to your teams’ needs. A charter encapsulates the basics of a project – scope, objectives, participants and management structure, budget, timeline, etc. Check out this wiki from the University of Washington for some excellent tips on leveraging a project charter, as well as a template to get you started.
2) Don’t force a methodology. Agile/Scrum, Waterfall, Lean. Whatever the methodology, you’ll find individuals, teams, indeed, entire companies that are dedicated to one, and only one, methodology. As a project manager, you will often find yourself in the midst of a new group – whether you’re leading a team comprised of members from different departments at your company, or you’re working as a consultant, you need to respect the dynamics of the group. This includes adapting your own preferred methodology to the group’s preference. Love Agile, but the project team wants to use Waterfall? You need to adapt. I’ve witnessed consulting teams attempt to enforce their own methodology at the expense of everything else including the project team’s preferences, and experience. Part of being a successful PM, is being a team player, and that means putting the team’s needs ahead of your own. Let your beloved methodology take a seat on the bench for a bit.
3) Identify a lead to maintain the project plan and timeline. Common sense, right? Not always. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “If it’s everyone’s job, then it’s no one’s job.” That saying can manifest itself in ugly ways on a project if you don’t have a clearly identified lead to manage project plan updates and timeline progress. No lead identified? Then who is making the updates? Everyone? Anyone? Bueller? This ties back to the need for a project charter. It’s not good enough to assume that everyone is clear on the scope, objectives, goals, or roles on a project. It needs to be documented to prevent potential confusion. To quote Yogi Berra, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” In theory, the project plan will be updated and progress on the timeline communicated. In practice, not so much. Designate a lead to maintain the project plan and track progress toward the timeline.
4) Maintain a RAID log. RAID logs were likely created to appease every Type A person’s need for order in chaos (myself very much included). It’s one of the most effective tools you can leverage to achieve a well-managed project, when used correctly. Not familiar with RAID? It stands for Risks, Actions, Issues, Decisions, and maintaining a RAID log is a wonderfully efficient way to increase transparency and keep your team informed about the project without having to constantly communicate status updates (no one wants more emails or meetings). It can also be a useful artifact to turn over at the end of a project, whether to the team you are transitioning the work to, or to auditors who will analyze the success of your project. Maintaining a RAID log helps you manage through minor roadblocks before they become disastrous obstacles. Just make sure you don’t turn your RAID log into the be all and end all. Agree to parameters of what does and doesn’t belong in the log before leveraging it.
5) Understand, then manage conflict. As projects are managed by human beings, conflict on any project is inevitable. A 2008 study found that U.S employees spent 2.8 hours a week dealing with conflict, which amounts to $359 billion in paid working hours (assuming an average hourly wage of $17.95). So, unfortunately, there’s no escaping conflict. But if you can address conflict early and identify a resolution, you significantly decrease the risk to your project. How to address conflict? First, understand what caused the conflict initially (check out this post for a list of 10 common sources of conflict on a project). You can’t resolve a conflict unless you understand the root of the problem. After identifying the cause of the conflict, don’t hesitate to rip the bandage off. Bring the warring sides together and have them lay their concerns on the table. It may take time to negotiate a cease-fire, but better a few hours spent resolving the conflict, then weeks’ worth of delays if the problem festers.
Want to learn how to avoid the most common project pitfalls, along with additional tips for managing a project well? Join us for a free webinar on September 23, Preventing Disaster: How to Avoid Common IT Project Management Pitfalls.