4 Tried & True Best Practices for Avoiding Project Management Failures
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 9, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.
We've all been on the failing end of a project. If you say that you have never experienced a project that completely failed you probably are either a) in denial or lying, b) unaware, or c) very new to project management and therefore just haven't managed enough projects yet. But sooner or later you'll get there and then this article will be for you.
Here are some best practices for avoiding the project “danger zone” or getting your failing project turned around. Regardless, these do all work. Trust me, I've tried them and others that didn't work (but those are for another 'lessons learned' type article).
So let’s consider each of these action items and how they can help your troubled project or keep it out of trouble.
Don't Overlook the Risks and Issues
We like to pay close attention to the project schedule and what tasks are happening right now. 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, assign them and force accountability and monitor them until they are resolved or are no longer issues. Nothing makes your customer lose confidence faster than a bunch of unresolved issues that aren't getting proper attention and resolution.
Stay on Top of the Project Financials
On-budget delivery 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. Make friends with someone in accounting...whatever you have to do to make sure that you get accurate weekly updates of charges to your project so that you can get an accurate picture of your project's financial health. And then perform any reforecasting and corrective action if the budget is off track. Maybe you need to bench under-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 pre-emptive action before things get too far out of control.
Watch for Scope Creep
This one becomes really hard if you have poorly defined requirements and if you have not laid out the whole change order process for your customer. However, if you've been diligent early on and worked on very detailed requirements with your team and customer and also set expectations with you 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 a flag 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. Then discuss the work with your project client and produce a formal change order describing the work along with a cost 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.
Standardize the Meeting Schedule
Finally, standardize how project meetings happen. 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. 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. Lastly, conduct the weekly customer status meeting using those two communication tools to drive an effective discussion.
Best practices like these will never guarantee project success, nothing can. But staying true to good communication and solid 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.