Avoid the Top Project Management Mistake

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Mistake #1: Inadequate Planning
I have heard project managers say that the time they spend planning could be better spent actually "doing the work". This is not right. Before the project work begins, the project manager must make sure that the work is properly understood and agreed to by the project sponsor and key stakeholders. The larger the project, the more important it is that this information be defined formally and explicitly. When you think about it, many project problems can be traced to problems in planning. These include
  • Poor estimates based on not understanding the totality of the work.
  • Lack of scope change management because scope was not properly defined to begin with.
  • Issues occurring because of poor risk management.
  • Missing work because the schedule is not thought out.
  • Not understanding all the stakeholders involved.
It should not be surprising, then, that the best way to avoid this problem is to do a good job of planning the project up-front. There are four main components to the planning process.
  • Defining the work. You need to understand the nature of the project including objectives, scope, assumptions, risks, budget, timeline, organization and overall approach.
  • Understanding the schedule. You should create a  project schedule before the project starts. This is needed to help you determine how to complete the work, and to estimate the total project effort and duration.
  • Estimating costs. You and the sponsor need a good estimate of costs before the project gets going.  
  • Agree on project management processes.This will include how the project manager will manage scope, issues, risks, communication, schedule, etc.
People ask me how much time it takes to complete the project planning. The answer is "sufficient". You need to spend the time to define the work, create a schedule, estimate the costs and set up the project management processes. If your project is small, this should not take much time. If your project is large the planning may take a log time. In other words, planning is scalable based on the size of the project.
Spending time on good planning ends up taking much less time and effort than having to correct the problems while the project is underway. We all know this to be the case. We just need to practice this on our projects.
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Mistake #2: Poor scope management practices
Managing scope is one of the most critical aspects of managing a project. However, if you have not done a good job of defining scope, managing scope will be almost impossible. The purpose of defining scope is to clearly describe and gain agreement on the logical boundaries and deliverables of your project. The business requirements are gathered to provide more detail on the characteristics of the deliverables.
Defining scope means that you have defined the project boundaries and deliverables, and the product requirements. These should all be approved by your sponsor.  
The project manager and project team must realize that there is nothing wrong with changing scope - as long as the change is managed. If you cannot accommodate change, the final solution may be less valuable than it should be, or it may, in fact, be unusable.
Every project should have a process in place to manage change effectively. The process should include identifying the change, determining the business value of the change, determining the impact on the project and then taking the resulting information to the project sponsor for their evaluation. The sponsor can determine if the change should be included. If it is included, then the sponsor should also understand the impact on the project, and allocate the additional budget and time needed to include the change.
The most common problems with scope change management are:
  • Not having the baseline scope approved, which makes it difficult to apply scope change management.
  • Not managing small scope changes leaving yourself open to "scope creep".
  • Not documenting all changes - even small ones.
  • Having the project manager make scope change decisions instead of the sponsor (or designee).

If you find that your project is starting to trend over its budget and schedule, try to find the cause. In many cases you will find that you are simply taking on more work than you originally agreed to. If you do not have a good scope change process in place, it is never too late to start.

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Mistake #3: Not Keeping Schedule Up-to-Date
Many project managers create an initial schedule but then don't do a good job of updating the schedule during the project. There are trouble signs that the schedule is not being updated.
 
  • The project manager cannot tell exactly what work is remaining to complete the project.
  • The project manager is unsure whether they will complete the project on-time.
  • The project manager does not know what the critical path of activities is.
  • Team members are not sure what they need to work on next (or even what they should be working on now).
     
It is a problem when the project manager does not really understand the progress made to date and how much work is remaining. When this happens, the project team is not utilized efficiently on the most critical activities.
There are a couple other common scheduling problems.
  • Infrequent updates. Sometimes the project manager updates the schedule at lengthy intervals. For instance, updating the schedule every two months on a six-month project. This is not often enough to keep control of the schedule. The schedule should be updated every week or two.
  • Managing by percent complete. All activities should have a due date. As you monitor the work, keep focused on whether the work will be completed by the due date. It is not very valuable to know that an activity is 70% completed. It is more valuable to know if the due date will be hit.
  • Assigning activities that are too long. If you assign a team member an activity that is due by the end of the week, you know if the work is on-track when the week is over. However, if you assign someone an activity that does not need to be completed for eight weeks, you have a long time to go before you know if the work is really on schedule. Keep the due dates within a reasonable timeframe. 
It is not easy to catch up a schedule once the project is started. Typically, by the time you realize you need to update the schedule, your project is already in trouble. Updating the schedule at that point only shows how much trouble you are in. The much better approach is to keep the project up-to-date, and ensure that it contains all of work necessary to complete the project. 
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Mistake #4: Poor project communication will cause many projects to end unsuccessfully
Many years ago, a good project manager might have gotten away with being a poor communicator. The customers typically didn’t like it, but as long as the project manager could deliver the goods, the customer may have been inclined to let them do their own thing. In today’s world, however, projects need to be undertaken in partnership with the sponsor and customers, and this partnership absolutely requires solid communication. In fact, many of the problems that surface on a project are actually the results of poor communication. A project Communication Plan can help but still needs to be proactive. Poor communication can lead to the following trouble areas.
Differences in expectations
Project managers need to strive to ensure that all stakeholders have a common set of expectations. Perhaps it is just as simple as not informing some stakeholders that the project end date was changed from December 31 to March 31. People make decisions based on the information they have at the time, and if the project manager does not keep everyone under a common set of expectations, things can start to get out-of-sync fast.
People are surprised
If people are not kept informed as to what is going on, they will be surprised when changes occur. Proactive communication means that you keep people up-to-date. People get angry and frustrated when they find out bad news at the last minute, when there is no time left to have an impact on the situation. 
No one knows what the state of the project is
On some projects, people are not really sure what the status is. The communication on these projects is short and terse and does not give the reader a real sense as to what is going on. This leads to confusion and missed expectations.
People are impacted by the project at the last-minute
This is a prime cause of problems. In this situation, the project manager does not communicate proactively with other people about things that will impact them. When the communication does occur, it is at the last minute and everything is rush-rush. This frustrates people and leads to inevitable conflicts.  
Team members don’t know what is expected of them
Poor communication also occurs within a project team. Some project managers do a poor job of talking with their own team to explain what they are expected to do. This causes extra work and extra frustration on the part of the project manager and team members alike.
What’s the solution?
In most cases communication problems are not based on a lack of skills, but a lack of focus. Many project managers place communication on the bottom of their priority list. When they do communicate, it tends to be short and cryptic, as if they are trying to get by with the minimum effort possible.
The key to communicating is to focus on the reader - not yourself. Try to think about what the receiver of the communication needs and the information that will be most helpful to them. 
Many projects have problems. Poor communication can cause many problems and aggravate others. On the other hand, proactive communication can help overcome many other mistakes. Don’t consider communication to be a necessary evil. Instead, use it to your advantage to help your project go smoothly with less frustration, less uncertainty and no surprises.
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Mistake #5: Poor quality leads to poor results
Like the other common project management mistakes we have looked at, problems with quality show up in a number of areas. For instance:
  • Rework. Rework means that you have to fix a deliverable that you thought was complete. Rework is always caused by flaws in your quality management process.
  • Higher operations costs. If errors are caught within the project, there is a cost associated with correct and rework. However, quality problems may surface after the solution is in operations. This causes operations (and maybe support) costs to increase.  
  • Client dissatisfaction. If a solution is of poor quality, the customer will not be happy. If the customer has a choice, they may not buy from you again. 
  • Missed deadlines and budget. Projects that build poor quality products tend to miss their deadlines and exceed their budget. This can cause the entire business case to be less attractive.
  • Poor morale. No one likes to work on a project that produces poor quality solutions. Morale and motivation tend to go down on these types of projects.
Don't fear. Quality management can help.

What Can be Done?
There are three main components to delivering quality solutions. 
  1. Quality requirements. You cannot meet the customers expectations for quality if you don't know what the expectations are. Quality requirements are identified when traditional functional and non-functional requirements are gathered.
  2. Quality control activities (QC). Quality control activities ensure the deliverables are of high-quality. This can include walkthroughs, completeness checklists, etc.
  3. Quality assurance activities (QA). These activities ensure that the processes used to create the deliverables are of high quality. This can include third party audits and checklists to ensure that a process were completed.
Everyone on the team needs to have a quality mindset to ensure that work is completed with a minimum amount of errors – the first time.


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Source: Method123

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