Projects come and go and if we are experienced, diligent, and a bit lucky, we will experience many more project success stories than failures. But there will come a time when you fail on a project…it happens to all of us. Hopefully, never enough that we quit (or are asked or told to quit). But it happens.
Do we have control over our project successes and failures? Well, yes, for the most part. What we do, how we manage our team and customer, how we communicate and the experience and technical expertise we bring to the table…these things all can play a big role in how often we are successful on our projects.
Of course there will always be those situations that are out of our control. Customer funding dries up, customer priorities shift, the world ends…I think you get the picture. Sometimes a failure just can’t be avoided.
However, I am a firm believer – through real world PM experience and observation – that what we do and how we do things on a consistent basis will help to ensure we deliver success most of the time. For the most part, we control our own destiny in terms of project success and we do that through consistent adherence to some project management best practices. I’m identifying my four key ones here that we can adhere to and greatly increase our success percentages on project delivery and end solution implementation…
#1 – Really manage the issues and risks
We like to pay close attention to the project schedule and what tasks are happening right now and that’s a good thing. While it is important to stay on top of progress and team assignments, it is equally important that we remain aware of potential risks and how we will react should they become a reality. It is also critical that we track the outstanding issues on our project, and keep team members accountable for them. Nothing makes your customer lose confidence faster than a bunch of unresolved issues that aren’t getting proper attention and resolution. And an ever growing issues list is a scary thing to fight late in the project. It will always come back to haunt you.
#2 – Closely manage the project budget
Delivering the project on budget is one of the three key determiners of project success. I know this may sound foreign to some of you, but it is critical that you focus on the project financials every week. Do whatever it takes to make sure that you get accurate weekly updates of charges to your project so that you can see an accurate picture of your project’s financial health. And then perform any reforecasting and corrective action that needs to happen if the budget is off. Maybe you need to bench low utilized resources for a month to get on track, but at least you are aware now and can take action. It’s far easier to take early action before things get too far out of control. I always say it’s better to fight a 10% budget overrun now than a 50% overrun later…you’ll never win that battle.
#3 – Stay on top of the project scope
Poorly defined requirements will make this task very difficult. But if you’ve been diligent early on and worked on very detailed requirements with your team and customer and also set expectations with your customer on how changes to the scope will be handled, then this process will be much easier.
Rely on your skilled team resources to raise flags when they think they are being asked to do work that is outside of the original project requirements that everyone agreed to and that your customer formally signed off on. And then discuss the work with your project client and produce a formal change order describing the work along with a price for that work. That now becomes part of an expanded project budget. Without a change order in place you can see how extra undocumented work like this can run the project budget into the ground quickly.
#4 – Have regular project meetings and follow through with them
Finally, standardize how meetings happen on the project. And don’t skip them. Even if there is nothing to discuss in a given week, still hold the meeting. Those team and customer touch points are still important and it’s extremely important to stay organized and stick to the planned weekly meeting schedule. If you start to skip or cancel meetings on a regular basis you’ll find that your team members and customer may start to become disengaged from the project and that is bad. Ideally, the PM should meet weekly with his team internally to get all of their latest updates and concerns. Then take that info and create a status report and a revised project schedule. Then conduct the weekly customer status meeting using those two communication tools to drive an effective discussion.
Nothing will guarantee success no matter what you do and how well you do it. But adhering to some consistent, good best practices like these will help keep your project out of trouble. And if you aren’t doing these and you find your project floundering, these actions can definitely help you to get back on track.