5 Really Simple Tips for Really Experienced Project Managers
The requirements on a really experienced project manager can seem intimidating – to say the least. He or she must be a capable leader and communicator throughout the organisation, be the one who always brings clarity and structure, maintains the overall perspective while keeping a firm grip on every detail in the project plan, risk management, budgeting and follow-up – including all deviations that occur in the project: projects are by definition unique endeavours and hence subject to increased uncertainty and risk. What’s more, the project manager should preferably also be somewhat of a domain expert.
After having reviewed a large number of projects over the last 20 years, it occurs to me that the reasons why complex projects fail much too often is that a few simple aspects of project management are overlooked, and that project managers fail to spend enough time on a set of cornerstones.
Therefore, here are five suggestions from me on the topic “really simple tips for really experienced project managers”, and they are not things that are rarely missed, but things that keep failing in one project after the other.
1. What is to be Done?
Projects that don’t have a documented, easy to understand goal that is known by all stakeholders almost invariably fail. It’s not acceptable to neglect the definition of the goal, claim that ”it can be found in the project plan” or that the ”contract with the supplier defines the goal”. And it’s not acceptable to take over a troubled project and try to get it back on track, before making sure that the goal is crystal clear.
2. How do the Stakeholders Feel about the Goal?
Far too many experienced project managers take a formally approved project charter as a sign that the project goal is known – and above all – accepted. But this is often not the case. You have to take the time to understand all the stakeholders, have a coffee with each member of the steering committee to gauge their level of commitment and understand whether or not the goal is understood and accepted or if additional work is required. To start detailed project planning before this phase is completed is to plan for delays and cost overruns, or in the worst case a complete failure.
3. What are the Prerequisites to Succeed?
All larger organisations basically share a common project challenge: too many projects are run in parallel with too few resources. In the worst case there is even a management culture saying that you shouldn’t have reserves or contingencies (time and money) since then the project would then not be “kept on its toes”. A project manager who then backs down, makes a plan without sufficient reserves, with insufficient resources and tries to compensate by working harder and putting in more hours every day will most probably fail. That kind of project manager also tends to lose the overall perspective since they constantly get involved in reactive fire fighting instead of being available to the rest of the organisation.
As a project manager you have to have the guts to state the prerequisites to succeed – and the integrity not to back down when they are questioned.
One of the most important tasks of a project manager is to communicate and spread information. This must be done in writing, verbally and continuously. The information must be customised for every target audience, and be easy to understand. The time for communication doesn’t automatically present itself, but needs to be created. In today’s multi national world with geographically distributed project teams, the importance of written cunication has also increased.
5. Focus on Team Building and Relationships
As a manager for large complex projects you will accomplish infinitely more if the atmosphere and team spirit in the project are booming and the relationships with the stakeholders are good. This is something you have to work actively and diligently on. It’s also important that problems in this area, for example realationship problems in the team, are addressed as such and not by resolving only various factual matters that are only symptoms, in the worst case through phone or video conferences.
If you consider yourself a very experienced project manager, but you still feel your project is not progressing well enough – have a look at the list and ask yourself if you have the really simple cornerstones in place before attacking the more complex issues. The complex issues, paradoxically, tend to prove themselves relatively simple!
By Erik Sjöberg, CEO