I have to admit I have not always understood how important project management is. The first few projects I worked on didn’t have a project manager and I was able to complete them. Then I started to work on some larger projects with more people involved and we had major issues meeting deadlines. There was little to no coordination between all of the developers and organizations involved.
A few years later I worked with a project manager. We had a lot of status meetings that I thought were unnecessary. As the project progressed those meetings helped us coordinate deliverables and meet objectives. Without them and a lot of the planning, the project manager did we would have witnessed a disaster similar to previous projects without coordination.
I would like to discuss some of the major issues that can arise when we don’t have good project management. I have learned a few of these myself and others I have gleaned from project management professionals.
Jump into execution
One of the major issues that get projects off course is jumping into the execution phase immediately. If we are under pressure from management to complete something quickly this seems like a good idea. Although you may show quick progress it can lead to many common project management pitfalls.
No clear goals
When we start working right away we neglect to answer some important questions. The first of which is what is our goal? We may think we know what is supposed to happen. When we understand the underlying goals and objectives we have a better chance of success. Clearly defined goals can drive the project success.
Most projects have multiple stakeholders. We can’t just talk with one of them and think we know what is to be accomplished. Meeting with all stakeholders and getting their objectives out in the open can start the conversation. The sponsor of the project is the one who will pay for the effort. It is key to get that out and understand any sort of budgetary restraints. We don’t want to propose a Cadillac solution when a Chevrolet is all they are looking for.
“Can we have this report too?” is what you hear from stakeholders who want another feature added. Once you have decided what your new system or enhancements will be done other people come out of the woodwork. Everyone has a pet feature or change they want to be added to the system. A good project manager is on guard for any changes that can ruin the timeline they have already created.
Scope creep is the overall snowball effect of the multiple small changes we allow that come back to push the project off course into a large delay. It reminds me of the old adage of death by a thousand paper cuts. Each one seems quite small but over time they add up.
This seems like a simple question, “who is responsible for this project?” It is an important and often overlooked question when a project starts. Some people may give orders but without knowing who is in charge and who is going to pay the bill the project can’t start. Getting an estimate together and getting the proper approvals are good initial steps so everyone understands what it will cost and how much time it may take.
Create dysfunctional teams
Good teams have clear boundaries where everyone knows their role. When we jump into execution and never discuss who is responsible for what they will do and their role in the project you can create at a minimum a lot of confusion. In the worst cases, this creates dysfunctional teams that bicker and fight. We don’t want to mismanage our team members and create unnecessary drama, so take some time and plan your project.
Plan in proportion to project size
When we do plan our projects it is important to put it into context with the size of the project. If our project is small we should not spend as much time on planning it. As the project size grows we need to invest more time in planning it appropriately. Compare it to a purchase if you were spending a small amount of money you wouldn’t spend a lot of time researching the purchase. If you were buying something large like a house or new car you would spend more time getting to know your options.
One warning on this, if you project size is quite unclear you need to spend time understanding the size of the project. If you think something is small and spend a little time planning the project, it can blow up on you quick. So make sure you know the overall scope and what exactly is needed to complete the project.