7 project management mistakes you're making

Managing a project well is a challenge strewn with pitfalls. 7 project management 'no-nos' reveal strategies for success.

1. You're trying to manage a project

It’s a common misconception that project managers manage projects. They don’t, they manage people. Effective project management is about nurturing the people that go into enterprise, and mobilising human ingenuity towards challenging objectives. 

Communication is a central part of this. "Without regularly and clearly communicating, the project will fall apart," says Tim Parkin, president of Parkin Web Development, which provides online strategy consulting for companies to align their business with technology to achieve high growth.

Over-communication can hold things up, but "having specific days and times scheduled, in advance, helps to keep everyone on the same page and keeps the project flowing," he says.  

2. Your bin liners are full of time and resources

If you keep figuratively filling your dustbins with used time that came to nothing, your team will struggle to do their best work. Look for weak links in the project as it passes from one task to the next, and one person to another. This will help you expose some of the most wasteful practices in an organisation, and find ways to eliminate them. 

3. You don't ask why?

You're not delivering on time, you’re not delivering your best work and your customers and clients aren't happy. Ask why? And now ask it four more times, and you're one step closer to finding the problem. 

Here's an example from MindTools.

Problem: Your client is refusing to pay for the leaflets you printed for them.

Why? The delivery was late, so the leaflets couldn't be used.
Why? The job took longer than we anticipated.
Why? We ran out of printer ink.
Why? The ink was all used up on a big, last-minute order.
Why? We didn't have enough in stock, and we couldn't order it in quickly enough.
Counter-measure: We need to find a supplier who can deliver ink at very short notice.

The ‘Five Whys’ is a common-place technique for identifying problems in projects. But it is just one step in attending to the processes behind a project, which can be time-consuming but ultimately worthwhile. "I liken process improvement to highway construction: it slows everyone down a little bit for a time, but after the work is done, the road is a lot smoother and the output greater," says Karl Wiegers, Ph.D., a Principal Consultant with Process Impact, a software process consulting and education company in Portland, Oregon.
4. You've taken on too many projects at once

"Multi-tasking slows people down, hurts quality, and worst of all, the delays caused by multi-tasking cascade and multiply through the organisation as people further down the line wait for others to finish prerequisite tasks" says says Sanjeev Gupta, CEO of Realization, a Silicon Valley firm that helps organizations complete projects faster.

"To stop these productivity losses, a good first step is to reduce work in progress (WIP) by 25-50 percent," he says. "This reduces the back and forth and makes managers and experts more responsive in dealing with issues and questions. Though counter-intuitive, reducing the number of open projects by 25-50 percent can double task completion rates." 

5. You think re-working is bad

Re-working can be a frustrating waste of time and resources. Not if it's planned. Your project schedule or work breakdown structure can include re-working  as a  task that might need to be carried out after “a regular quality control excersize,” says Wiegers. And if it turns out you don’t have to do any rework after a planned quality check you might find yourself ahead of schedule.

6. You expect information to lead to action

For the people under your management to achieve their goals, they need information they can digest and action. "When I see a six-week task on someone's list, I ask that person to define all the pieces of that task—to break the task into inch-pebbles," says Johanna Rothman president of Rothman Consulting Group, Inc. 

Inch-pebbles, or miniature milestones, are one way of working out how big a task really is and tracking progress:

1. Break down your task into bite-size one to two day tasks – these are your miniature milestones.
2. Estimate the time for each of your bite-size tasks
3. Factor in the areas where you'll be depending on someone else to get something done before you can start. This will illuminate the points at which the task will need to be passed from one team member to the next.

Getting people to break down big tasks into inch-pebbles is time-consuming. But if everyone on a project is doing this, the process becomes a lot more transparent, and people are able to communicate their own progress and concerns effectively.

7. You assumed it would all go swimmingly  

A plan and project schedule are the basic foundations of a project well managed, but they're no guarantee of success. 

You thought it would all go swimmingly. You clearly set out the project goals based on the clients needs. You used those clear goals to work out your deliverables, absolutely everything you needed to deliver to reach your goals. This was the basis of your project schedule, which included a list of tasks behind each deliverable. For each task you set out the amount of effort (hours or days) required to complete the task, and identified the person who would carryout the task. You entered all of this: Your deliverables, your tasks, your durations and the people who would complete each task into your project template. 

But things went wrong. There were misunderstandings, quality problems and rework. Client input wasn't sought and their needs weren't properly understood. Employees fell ill, someone left and workplace stress levels peaked.

There are some problems you can’t avoid, let’s face it we’re all human. This is where it takes a bit of creativity to predict what might go wrong before you launch into a project; otherwise known as risk management.

“The potential for risks is often overlooked, so it's crucial to sit down with your team and identify as many risks to your project as possible; you need work out how risks can be mitigated and plan how you'll respond should any project element go wrong," says Malcolm Williamson, head of Enterprise Support Services at Exemplas, a business support, skills and employment solutions provider and responsible for the free to access social enterprise support service, Inspire2Enterprise.

You can use a simple log. Enter in the risks you come up with, how you can prepare for them and how you would respond to them. This way when things go wrong, they can be dealt with – stakeholder relationships and project intact.

Pioneers Post Business School content is delivered in partnership with Inspire2Enterprise. Inspire2Enterprise provide a unique, free-to-access social enterprise support, information and advice service – from start-up through to initial growth and beyond. Call them on 0844 9800 760 or visit www.inspire2enterprise.org to find out more.

Photo credit: Flickr