Good project management is so much more than the application of processes – we know that. But although it’s people who deliver projects, processes support them in doing so and certainly have a place. Even with the best people it’s hard to deliver a successful project without a solid method for defining and controlling the project’s scope, requirements, benefits, costs, quality and risks. How unfortunate then, that many project managers make basic mistakes and fail to put in place a solid foundation based on which the project can progress.
Are you at risk of making any of the below process-related mistakes?
- You fail to see the bigger commercial picture of the project: You assume that the sponsor or someone more senior has already produced a strong and viable business case and that costs and benefits stack up.
- You compromise the planning stage: You succumb to pressure from senior stakeholders who believe that the project can be delivered quicker if the planning stage is reduced.
- You produce a superficial project initiation document or project plan: You leave out important detail about what will be delivered and how it will be delivered, and you fail to make use of product breakdown structures, milestones and iterations with clear outcomes and deliverables.
- You plan in isolation: You don’t involve the entire team in the planning process because you believe that you ought to know it all and do it all.
- You are not in sufficient control of scope and requirements management: You document the requirements at too high a level and don’t clearly specify what is out of scope.
- You underestimate the project’s effort: You are too optimistic when estimating the project. You only account for the sunny case scenarios and leave out contingency to cater for uncertainties.
- You use a mechanical risk management process: You have produced a risk register but you haven’t turned it into action or accounted for risks when planning how the project is actually undertaken.
- You have a poor governance process: The escalation process is unclear, the steering committee hasn’t been established or it isn’t summoned on a regular basis.
- You fail to effectively review and learn from project mistakes: Projects are reviewed after implementation and not whilst they are being undertaken so that the team can learn in the experience.
- You fail to get proper buy-in for planning documents: You treat the sign-off stage as a tick-box exercise instead of ensuring that stakeholders have actually understood the contents and the meaning of the documents.
You may feel that the above list is heavily exaggerated, but unfortunately it’s the harsh reality that many projects suffer from one or more of these process-related mistakes. Project mangers sometimes follow a process for the sake of compliance without attaching much meaning to it. But value-add comes from the meaningful application of a process. If a process, tool or technique doesn’t add value it shouldn’t be used. Risk management for instance has little value if all you do is to log the risks and assign ownership and mitigating actions, but subsequently don’t follow up and don’t take these risks into consideration when planning, estimating and executing the project. Similarly the project plan or charter has little value if it hasn’t been produced in collaboration with the team and if the stakeholders aren’t fully bought into it.
What’s interesting, is that many project managers know what needs to get done, but are still not doing it. Why is that? Are they too complaisant or busy putting out fires elsewhere? What is your situation? Do you sometimes fail to make use of proven project management practices even if you know better? What is the first step in alleviating that?
Susanne Madsen is a project program manager, mentor coach, and author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook. She has over 15 years experience in managing and rolling out large change programs.
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