“We didn’t define the problem we were trying to solve.”
“We didn’t communicate what we were doing.”
“We didn’t manage our project risks and issues.”
“We didn’t create a good project plan.”
“We didn’t have the right sponsorship.”
“We didn’t work well together.”
Having a business partner remember you as “that $%@*# project manager” because you were associated with a project failure is one of the worst things that can happen to a project manager. Not only will you have lost the trust of the business partner, but your ability to win the trust of other business partners could be in jeopardy because of the negative reputation you may have earned.
While this is a very real risk, you can take steps to avoid that fate. Follow these six tangible principles to avert those project screw-ups and stay on the road to success:
Focus on what needs to be done, when it needs to be finished, and the measures which will be used to determine success. Making a statement such as, “We need to reduce costs,” is too vague and isn’t enough for a project team to get passionate about.
A statement such as, “We need to reduce the cost of processing invoices by 50 percent by September 1st while ensuring that vendors are paid within terms 100 percent of the time,” specifies the mission.
Be specific about the project schedule. Key to any successful project is a well-engineered schedule. Depending on the project, the plan could be a simple task list or it could be a complex project plan with many dependencies and critical paths which change frequently as the project progresses.
Spend the time up front to plan out the work in a very clear and concise manner. Break down tasks to a point where a single owner can be identified as responsible and the duration for the task is 40 work hours or less.
Clearly understand your critical path through the project by determining task dependencies. Ensure assignments are clear so that each team member knows specifically what needs to be done, when it has to be done by, and what happens if a task isn’t completed on time.
A weak project plan is like building a house on a foundation of sand; you’ll make some early progress, but the building will fall down.
Make sure you have clear, committed sponsorship. For any project, it’s crucial to get an appropriate level of project sponsorship. The ideal project sponsor:
- Experiences the pain of the status quo and would directly benefit from a successful project.
- Actively helped craft the project mission statement.
- Has the decision making authority to secure or re-allocate resources to or from other projects to ensure that your project can be completed successfully.
- Goes to bat for your project with peer managers if you need help getting something from another organization.
- Meets with you on a regular basis to ensure that you’re getting what you need to succeed.
- Makes difficult decisions that may be unpopular but are in the best interests of the business.
Put a team in place that will gel. A well structured project team on which each member understands his or her role in making the project successful is like listening to a fine orchestra.
Team members understand what they need to do to make the project successful and operate first and foremost for the good of the team versus individual gain. Get clear on roles, hold team members accountable for delivery, praise those members who help others on the team, and avoid showing any bias to a particular team member or group.
Develop clear, concise, and regular stakeholder communication. Many groups can be affected by the result of a project, including the project team, executive sponsor, steering committee, customers, and other interested parties. These are all audiences that should be included in your communications plan.
Once you define your stakeholder groups, determine the frequency, medium, and content appropriate for each segment. Don’t assume a one-size-fits-all communication for your stakeholders. What may work for one group might be a waste for another. Keep your communications relevant to your stakeholders so they will pay attention to what you send out.
Manage project risks and issues. Your project is humming along and stuff is getting done. Then, out of the blue, an unanticipated issue comes up. As the project manager, you determine that the issue won’t have an impact on the schedule, and you let the one of the project team members work it out.
But the issue doesn’t go away because the project team member thinks the project manager is driving issue resolution. Before you know it, the project is late because the design issue wasn’t addressed when it should have been.
For project risks, ensure you have a clear articulation of each major risk your project faces, a mitigation plan for each risk, and a team member assigned to monitor the risk throughout the life of the project. For project issues, ensure you have a clear understanding of each one as soon as it rears its ugly head and that you are able to actively monitor the issue through its resolution. Don’t sweep the risk or issue under the carpet hoping it will go away, because it won’t.
Project managers need to keep a close lookout for screw-ups which can cause projects to fail and create problems for both them and their business partners. Help keep your reputation spotless as a project manager—keep these six things in mind as you’re undertaking your next business partner project.