By Damian Watson
A surprising number of projects fail to meet their objectives, realize intended benefits or even make it to the finish line. Whether a project is a small one-off piece of work, or a complex, multi-faceted business transformation within a portfolio, as a project manager you should be focused on what should be done in order to increase its likelihood of success.
Here’s some key pointers that, if you address, will help you towards success.
1. Start the project with success in mind
How a project is started is arguably the most influential factor in its success. It’s now that you confirm why the work is needed in its vision, objectives and expected benefits. This is the bedrock on top of which you base all other decisions.
The start is also your best opportunity to identify and get buy-in from project stakeholders. And you should be working closely with the project sponsor or executive at this time. Building a good relationship now will set you up down the line.
When developing your project brief or PID make sure you base your approach soundly on the business objectives, double and triple check your direction with key stakeholders and team members. Understand what success looks like and aim your project towards it.
2. Communicate throughout
Miscommunication, poor communication or lack of communication is a common cause of problems in projects. Communication is the glue that binds the other elements of a project together.
All project stakeholders require communications to some degree, your key stakeholders probably require lots. Find out how stakeholders wish to be communicated to and what they are specifically concerned with. Then tailor your messages and deliver to their expectations. Do that and they are more likely to support you when the going gets tougher.
Your project team needs to know how it’s progressing, the challenges it faces, and what’s coming next. Make sure you schedule formal opportunities for the team to communicate together and encourage a culture for open, informal communications.
3. Plan the work, work the plan
The beginning of a project is always exciting. You’re starting something new that’s going to triple the profitability of your company or that’s going to ensure vital services reach those that need them. Not only that, but your deadline is already coming up fast. Yikes!
It’s so tempting to just roll your sleeves up and get into the thick of it but stop. Before you start doing any of the work to create a product or service spend time planning it out.
Your plan should contain all the project team and stakeholders need to know about how you’re going to manage the project (scope, budget, quality and risk), who is going to do the work (internal/external resources), what products and activities are needed to complete the project, and as much schedule information for delivery as can be predicted.
The plan must also be shared and communicated regularly as it will change as the project progresses.
4. Deal with problems honestly
Things inevitably go wrong in a project. Anticipated risks may actually occur and unforeseen issues may lay the best laid plans to waste.
When a problem occurs you need help to resolve it. It could be small enough that you can deal with the problem with the help of the project team. Or it may be beyond the resources of the project and requires outside help from the sponsor and senior management.
In all cases honesty is what helps you here. Clearly define the problem, establish a cause, and identify the options to treat it. Do this with the help of the project team and experts in the subject. Do not keep it to yourself! By demonstrating honesty, openness and trust when problems occur you can overcome most things and develop a great project culture.
5. Learn and adapt
Most project methodologies underline the importance of learning from mistakes and sharing successes. As a human you learn from mistakes, in large part from trial and error. A project is made up of a group of humans which makes collective and individual mistakes. The more you can be conscious about the learning process, the better you can prevent or anticipate problems in the future.
There are some great techniques from Agile retrospectives that can help you here. Maybe try out “5 whys” on a problem, or run an “Emotional Timeline” session at the end of a project or phase. These help identify and define problems that have occurred.
Finally, it’s vital that you agree on actions to adapt what the team does in the future and gain commitments to execute those actions (including your own)!
Project management is primarily a people management skill (though the more technical processes and techniques you acquire, the better you can apply yourself to the challenge). If you set a project up to deliver a successful outcome, communicate effectively, execute cleanly and commit to honestly dealing with problems and learning from them, then you’re in with a fighting chance.