Only 2.5 percent of companies complete 100 percent of their projects, Gallup reports. This is a somewhat alarming statistic that begs the question, “Why is it so difficult to complete projects?”
The answer is that project managers are constantly coming up against the same issues that hinder their ability to see projects through to completion, which can be frustrating and demoralizing.
But what issues can you really plan for? PMs, both experienced and green in their fields, may be confronting the same repetitive issues over the course of different projects, but the problem, according to entrepreneur Andrew Cravenho, is that the issues don’t reveal themselves until the project progresses.
And by the time they reveal themselves, your window for finding a solution may be small, and the failure could be yours.
It May Not Be Your Fault, But It Is Your Problem
No job is without its challenges, but project managers are in the unenviable position of taking the blame when projects are not completed, no matter where the problems plaguing the project come from — employees, managers, or stakeholders.
Being able to overcome these obstacles is key for PMs. The Project Portfolio Management Association argues that the most important trait a project manager can possess is the ability to anticipate the challenges of a project and attempt to plan ahead for solutions. This way, a good PM is prepared to move quickly when issues arise.
Tip No. 1: Overcome the Vagueness of Project Goals by Asking the Right Questions
This is a common issue for project managers. Senior leaders either push for a scope that is too broad or too narrow, or they completely neglect to clearly define the goals of a project. The PM is left at a loss because goals are too vague.
As Alaine Karoleff, PMP, CSM notes, if the project manager does not understand the goals of a project, then they are unable to communicate them to the team, which translates into an unsatisfied customer whose needs were not met.
It is up to the project managers to overcome the vagueness of the project goals by asking the right questions. Cynthia K. West, vice president of Project Insight, notes that when upper management is unclear on project objectives, the rest of the company is as well. It is up to the PMs to push back and ask questions for clarification when any project goals are not clearly defined.
Once goals are established, it is essential that the elements of the project stay within those parameters. But it does not always work out that way.
Tip No. 2: Invest in Tools That Keep Global Teams on the Same Page
Decentralization is an issue that is becoming more prevalent as the world gets smaller. Problems begin to arise with working within different time zones, locations, functions and cultures, observes Michael Kaplan, PMP. He notes that as more teams work remotely, project managers struggle with their geographic distribution.
This struggle can inhibit team unity and engagement with the project. Kaplan offers some suggestions for overcoming decentralization that include
- implementing structures and standards that are applicable across the team,
- increasing project team visibility through face-to-face meetings as often as possible
- and allowing for extra team-building time when possible to foster camaraderie.
Using a good project management software tool is a great way to keep teams from across the world on the same page for a project.
Tip No. 3: Plan for Scope Creep
Scope creep is one of the biggest problems for any project. Your team members spent their time narrowing down the specific goals and tasks for the project, but then the client or senior managers alter the scope of the project. Any small change can strain resources.
This can completely derail the progress of a project, but there is little you can do about it except have a plan in place to deal with it. Tim Clark, a project management researcher, recommends having a “scope creep clause” in the initial project plan so that you have a better chance of negotiating time, budget and resources to fit the new scope when this occurs.
Your team will look to your guidance when scope changes occur, so it is essential that you analyze the changes, refocus the project and communicate immediately with your team. This will minimize the impact of the change and curb some of the loss. You will not be able to eliminate change, but you can mitigate the impact by taking time up front to make sure everyone understands the changes and what they mean.
One of the biggest impacts of scope change is on the budget. It is rare that the budget will change along with scope, requiring PMs to get creative in their approach to meeting the new requirements. An important part of analyzing any change is to be sure to find a way to work the change within the budget.
As projects progress and change, sometimes key tasks and processes get overlooked, which can have a domino effect on other tasks.
Tip No. 4: Clearly Define Roles, Responsibilities and Decision-Making Powers
Not everything will always go according to plan, and mistakes will happen. How those mistakes are handled is the mark of a good team. Everyone must be held accountable for the roles they play on a project.
It is important that each person’s roles, responsibilities and decision-making powers are clearly defined at the start of a project. Susanne Madsen, PM consultant and author, suggests creating a “collaborative milestone plan,” which helps guarantee buy-in from your team. Once key milestones are identified, the team decides who owns the milestones and all of the details that go with each.
This gives a secure level of accountability to everyone and forces them to take responsibility for their mistakes. Problems arise, however, when team members fail to take responsibility for their work. As Karoleff notes, quality suffers and deadlines slip through the cracks. It gets even worse when team members start pointing fingers and turning the blame on others for their mistakes.
Such strife is avoidable when members are made clearly aware of the responsibilities in a milestone plan. Clear communication is key for establishing accountability.
Tip No. 5: Clear and Timely Communication is Paramount to Success
A lack of communication is a major hurdle for projects. PMs have to make an effort to ensure that communication remains clear and open at all times.
A good way to start a project is to have a kick-off meeting. This puts everyone in the same room together and allows for the free flow of information between team members. It helps to engage everyone with the project.
To keep the project progressing, it is important for PMs to motivate team members, earn respect and instill confidence in stakeholders, says project management writer Moira Alexander. That is why, beyond the kick-off meeting, holding regularly scheduled meetings is important for keeping the line of communication open, holding everyone accountable and making sure everyone is on the same page. Sam Campbell at PM Chat also suggests using internal and external communications systems, such as messaging software, as a great way to maintain open-door communication.
Part of communication is ensuring senior managers and stakeholders are kept informed. IT management expert Bryan Nielson encourages PMs to sit down with stakeholders, sponsors, executives and team members at the start of the project to determine what KPIs they are looking for and any other project insights they expect.
Updating project documents regularly helps PMs communicate key information, and consultant Cerilia Gailliard urges PMs to update documents weekly. But, if something urgent comes up, like a change in scope or deadline, project documents should be updated within 24 hours, ensuring everyone has accurate information.
Communication can get especially tricky when your team is spread out across the globe.
Tip No. 6: Implement the Right PPM Tools
Robert Kelly, PMP and co-founder of #PMChat, laments that there is still a widespread lack of adoption of project management tools at many companies. He says that too many organizations are using a mash-up of various software programs and tools when they could consolidate it all into programs that offer “standardization, collaboration and real-time updates.”
Project management tools can be project-saving because they make it easier to keep projects on track. They can tell you where you are, whether the project is on pace with deadlines, and what areas could be more efficient.
But organizations hesitate to implement them because adoption can be a strong obstacle. People become comfortable with the old way of doing things and resist the change. Elizabeth Harrin, FPM, offers some suggestions for getting your team to “respect the process” and adopt new software: make the process easy and the tools easy to find and use, give in-depth training and stick to one set of tools for the project. These small steps will smooth the way for team members learning these new tools.
Maintaining Balance Is Key To Project Management
In the end, project completion depends on the PM’s ability to juggle all aspects of the project and maintain balance throughout. A PM who is a micromanager will never be able to juggle every task of every facet of a project. On the flip side, a PM who delegates everything will quickly lose control of a project. Project managers who can recognize potential obstacles and tackle them head-on stand a better chance of seeing a project through to completion.