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Avoiding Project Management Pitfalls

~ By Claudine Sirgant

Foot about to tread on a banana skin

Have you ever successfully planned a birthday party, a wedding, a charity event? If so, aside from any embarrassing moments that may have occurred, chances are you've got a handle on the basic project planning and management process. Interestingly, these types of projects often experience the same basic issues that large corporate projects do. Even strong, organised and experienced planners have found themselves managing a project that ends up in chaos and results in missed deadlines and budget overruns.

While certainly not an exhaustive list, the following are some common pitfalls that projects experience and some tips to help make a project more successful and avoid the potential for chaos.

Pitfall #1: Not Creating a Common Project Vision at the Onset of a Project

A shared vision (or goals) and expected project outcomes across key stakeholders is key to managing project efforts and avoiding scope creep:

  • Involve leaders and managers in the development of the project vision and ensure that all anticipated benefits are clearly understood and agreed upon
  • Identify success criteria and be specific. For example, total project costs will not exceed a certain dollar amount and the project will be rolled out within a specifically stated timeframe
  • Define the boundaries of the project by knowing what is out of scope (as well as in scope)

Words of Wisdom: Facilitate your stakeholders to the creation of a common vision and ensure that they own the vision and the ultimate solution.

Pitfall #2: Not Getting Organised, Staying Organised and Organising Those Around You

Strong planning and organisational skills are essential traits of a successful project manager:

  • Develop your project plan at the task level and communicate it to your project team and stakeholders. It's well worth the time in order to keep you and everyone else organised
  • Create a robust communication plan and make sure it's a "living document."
  • Understand who you need to communicate with, how they want to be communicated with and the frequency. Then determine how your messaging should differ by stakeholder
  • Conduct an interactive kick-off meeting to ensure everyone involved with the project is fully engaged
  • Ask for continuous feedback and be prepared to adjust your plan to address changing stakeholder needs
  • Develop risk and issue logs. Risks and issues are a part of every project. Get ahead of the game and brainstorm with people on potential risks and ways to avoid them before they become issues that impact your project's scope, timeframe, quality and/or budget

Words of Wisdom: The devil is in the detail. Review your plans at least twice daily. It's the best 15-20 minutes you'll ever spend.

Pitfall #3: Not Involving the Right People on the Project

  • Engage the right people at all levels of your organisation (and not necessarily those who simply want to chime in because it's a high profile project) to solidify the project vision, avoid scope creep and implement
  • Ensure that all stakeholders understand what needs to happen, how it needs to happen and when
  • Identify a project sponsor, someone with authority and influence, and have them actively involved throughout the project
  • Communicate the project vision, project team roles and responsibilities and clearly set expectations
  • Ensure your key project decision makers understand the principles of good project management and that they need to operate within that framework
  • Include frontline personnel who can be key contributors to a project. They often provide insight into the "goings-on" of an organisation and have the ability to rally the troops when the rubber meets the road and things need to get done
  • Identify the nay-sayers and keep them very involved in the project (keep your friends close and your enemies closer)

Words of Wisdom: Don't assume that senior leaders are the only ones that should be in your sights. Keep a laser focus on decision makers and those who directly impact your project.

Pitfall #4: Not Asking for Help and Learning From Others

"Mum's the word" is not a mantra any project manager should embrace. Project managers who are new to project management or are managing a different type of project than they've managed before can have a steep learning curve:

  • Identify people internally who have managed a similar project and talk about lessons learned from previous projects
  • Identify external sources who can impart their own words of wisdom on how to effectively manage a project
  • The Internet is a beautiful thing, use it to research project management best practices and tools and understand new technologies

Words of Wisdom: Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It's better to ask for help then to place a project at risk. Let's face it, every project has its ups and downs but it's what you, as the project manager, do to handle the good and the bad that leads to project success and avoids project chaos.


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