IT projects vary in sizes, requirements, concepts, technologies used, time frames, efforts, skills, target audience, users and more. Every single project, however, no matter what technology or a programming language it requires to be implemented in, imposes a number of challenges to project managers and team members. If handled inadequately, these challenges can lead to fatal outcomes. A study that involved more than 10,600 projects from 200 companies working across different industries indicated that only 2.5% of these companies completed their projects on 100%. What’s interesting, though, is that most of the time, a failed project is associated with a project manager who didn’t lead his team properly, rather than team members who couldn’t do their job right. The reason behind this are several killer management behaviors which the leader of the project fails to notice beforehand or throughout the course of work. From miscommunication to unrealistic deadlines, these breakdowns can very quickly turn into the one and only mistake that takes everything not only in a completely wrong direction but to a dead end… With a quite some noise, indeed, which can be heard even in a forest with no one around.
To help you understand when project management is done ineffectively and how it can be done more effectively instead, we are listing 8 common mistakes which project managers make.
LACK OF COMMUNICATION
Clear communication framework means clear comprehension of tasks and responsibilities. And vice versa. Irregular communication habits, rare meetings and update follow-ups may derail any project. It’s essential to plan the development of a project in advance and outline the specifics in a kickoff face-to-face meeting with your team members. But that alone is hardly enough to guarantee successful implementation. Breaking the silence and channeling information, updates and ideas on a regular basis is something that contributes greatly to the overall project execution. Consistent conversations, informative guideline, status check-ins, systematic progress monitoring and more can ensure that the project won’t go off the rail. To make things even easier and more effective when exchanging information, project managers can use a web-based system where team members can highlight any necessary changes, make requests or share updates about what they are currently working on. After all, good communication is at the heart of a successful task management. It keeps everything on track and everyone on the same page. This is simply the recipe that is sure to work wonders.
FROM NOT-ENOUGH TO ZERO TRANSPARENCY
Upholding information in the dungeons of your own knowledge as a project manager doesn’t really contribute to the work of others. On the contrary. It delays results and prevents your team from doing what they know best. So if you know something, share it. If you think there is something that the rest don’t know, say it. If you think the rest might know something but you are not completely convinced, point it out still. Being over-informed is better than being under-informed. In general, if there is no transparency on a project, it becomes just natural for new problems to arise daily and even hourly. But, the more things are being clarified to and known by staff members, the more productive they will be. Everyone will know their roles and everyone will know the roles of their colleague. Processes will run straightforwardly and tasks will be completed smoothly. In this sense, ensuring transparency from the very inception of the project will:
- ensure buy-in from everyone who is part of the assigned team
- increase accountability
- align departments when appropriate
- maximize project team performance
- minimize ambiguities surrounding the project and its specifics
ILLUSIVE OR VAGUE EXPECTATIONS
Managing what both the client and the team expects is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks that project managers have to deal with. And sometimes they do it completely wrong and fail at it. To avoid that, get into all technical and strategic details of the project since the beginning, explain the resources you have at hand, set firm and specific outlooks about the scope of the project, define the SMART objectives that everyone agrees on and then move on beyond the shadow of the future. It is vital to point out to the team how exactly their engagement will contribute to the final outcomes. Each person needs to know what the client and the project manager expects from them. They need to know their tasks. Then, everyone has to be exposed to the consequences and results of their activities. Last but not least, clarifying how much time the project will take to be completed will help you eliminate misleading expectations as well.
INDIGESTIBLE VOLUMES OF WORK
Having aggressive deadlines often requires expedited action plans and intensive work. Not having aggressive deadlines, on the other hand, may result in dragging your feet, without taking any actions just because you and the team know there’s plenty of time before the project’s day of submission. So you redirect your focus to something more urgent as an alternative. Still, either of these is bad enough and things get even worse when there’s too much stuff to be done. And that happens a lot. A perfect solution to such situations is to break the workload down to manageable and more ‘digestible’ parts. That will reduce the feeling of being too overwhelmed and stressed out with tons of work to be done. Moreover, it will give your team members enough time to understand what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. In addition to this, a good project manager should introduce the project in steps and smaller components that need to be managed on a day-by-day principle, rather than all at once, right here and right now. Thus, on the one hand, breaking up voluminous tasks to smaller chunks and sub-tasks will provide managers a chance to review how things have gone so far and take a fresh look at the progress of the project itself. On the other, the personnel will be able to look at the specifics and details more easily, without compromising on quality.
A bad scenario that happens way to often is when project managers set up impractical and unattainable timelines. They schedule tasks and deadlines, consider a final date for product delivery to clients and lock everything in. Sometimes though, not everything goes as planned. Especially when things are not clearly discussed with the rest of the people involved in the project. In order to handle such challenges properly, you should go over what your end-user thinks is best as a delivery date and base it on the skills and workflow of the team that will develop the project. Otherwise they may compromise on quality just to meet the strict deadline. Try to find the balance between the time they need to complete their tasks and the delivery date when your client wants to receive its project.
BEING IMPERSONAL. BEING A ROBOT
Some project managers think that the less emotion they express, the better it is. False. Your staff will feel motivated if you interact with them, be more emotional and express desire to get to know them to some extent. Showing and demonstrating friendliness will catapult the work forward as the personnel involved will feel less stressed about deadlines and tasks, and more inspired. In the end, rewarding them for their progress, even if the project is still in progress is yet another practice that will make you less of a robot and more of a person. Take a note of how things are being done and make your staff feel valuable and appreciated. That is powerful enough to make a difference, strengthen the relationship between the personal manager and the team, enhance teamwork and boost productivity.
BEING ALWAYS RIGHT
True, you are the project manager and you are supposed to be the person to guide your team and tell right from wrong. But one of the most disadvantageous mistakes is to think that you know best in every possible situation. Sometimes the smartest PM is not the person who knows everything but the person who understands what other people do. That means going beyond job descriptions and titles, and multiplying total QUANTITY of power. In other words, every team member should be given the freedom to express their judgement, opinion, expertise and talent. Giving agency to people, equals trusting their professional understandings, views and abilities.
CHANGES? NO, THANK YOU
The IT industry is really dynamic and everything happens on the fly. So changes are inevitable. Resisting to changes, however, is wrong. Many project managers see changes in plans, deadlines, approaches and so on as threatening to the overall success of the project. This is wrong too. Every project should be regarded as a living thing that evolves, develops, lives and, most of all, undergoes modifications. It is important, then, to be adaptable, agile and able to adjust to a situation that doesn’t quite unfold according to plans, evaluations or forecasts. A strong project manager should be flexible in his decisions and should be ready to change the course of the project. Especially if that will guarantee optimized results and less failures. Nevertheless, always keep in mind the predefined goals discussed with your team. And if you have to make changes even halfway through the project implementation, make them in relation to the scope of the project and those initial objectives.
On the question of what is the most common mistake a project manager can make, Martin Elenkov, Project Manager at BGO Software, answered that;
“Based on my experience and observation, the most common mistake comes from striving to meet unreasonably short deadlines. As a consequence, there are deviations from the initial estimate, be that under- or overestimation of some sort, as well as mismatching client’s requirements and expectations. To avoid this, every good project manager needs to invest enough time and attention to the service design stage which is a vital part of the IT service lifecycle. This way, the process of designing and developing a product or a project will run very smoothly and, most importantly, cost-effectively. After all, there are no unfixable mistakes! This is something that every project manager should remember.”
In the end, there are so many tricky parts to a project that sometimes the mistakes project managers make are simply unavoidable. The important thing, however, is knowing how to turn them into lessons that will better project managers' role as team leaders and professionals in their field.