In his article 5 Killer Mistakes Project Managers Make’ I love the approach that the author Duncan Haughey has taken. In reading the article there were some key things that stood out for me and resonated with my approach to project management. Let me tell you what they are.
No IT projects, just projects with IT in them
I totally agree with Duncan’s comment “there really aren’t any IT projects, just projects that have elements of IT in them.” This is a topic that I’ve had numerous discussions with ‘IT’ project managers about. I’ve written a blog post ‘Business Project or IT Project?‘ which explains my position on it. Along with Duncan I see IT as the enabler and therefore even a project that builds an IT system is still something delivering for the business. Without the business there would be no need for projects. You could spend all of your time building IT systems and they wouldn’t ever be used. Pretty pointless really.
A project needs Senior Management support
I’ve seen a number of projects that have failed because they had no strong senior management support. As Duncan says “a project without support from senior management will struggle.” I’ve also been involved in those projects first hand and it’s not fun for anyone on the project team, let alone the Project Manager. Gaining Senior Executive buy-in is a must. It’s the only way that you’ll have the support you need, when you need it on a number of fronts. If you’re needing more resources for your project, or a shift in resource allocation, you’ll need some senior level support. When you’re budget looks like being at risk, you’ll certainly need their assistance. Be smart and gather the right level of Senior buy-in BEFORE you project begins. It’s one key to success in my opinion.
Bad projects lack user input and involvement – really?
“Lack of user input and involvement is the recipe for a bad project” I totally agree. He takes the words right out of my mouth when he says “this can either be because of the ‘we know what you want’ mentality from the IT department.” I have seen this happen so many times on projects where the IT team believe they know what the business wants and will come up with something to show off their skills and expertise. In the long run it does not meet the businesses needs though, which creates a big problem.
Then I hear the Project Manager say there is a “lack of interest from the customer.” Yes, this can be the case, and sometimes the customer (the business) get so confused by the IT jargon that they pull back and don’t really articulate what it is that they want. Often they are so close to what they do on a day-to-day basis that they can’t easily tell you what they want. So having a PM that can work between the two worlds (IT and the Business) is a must.
They’re ‘customer’ requirements
“The IT department must take time to understand the customers’ requirements before proposing any technical solution.” Yes, I agree, and then again the customer (business) must be responsible for articulating their requirements in a succinct manner, via properly laid down business requirements. These must be captured on paper, in writing, so that there is something for the project team to work with. It’s not good enough for the business just to say, “Oh we want something like this!” Capturing business requirements is the key to locking down the scope of a project. It’s the key to IT being able to successfully deliver what the business needs. The solution should not be discussed until the requirements have been developed, or you’re in for disaster.
You’re project foundations must be strong
I agree with Duncan that you must “Ensure that the business case, requirements and scope are clearly defined and documented” These are the foundations for any project. In order for it to run successfully these key things must be documented, agreed upon and locked down. Any moving parts in any of these cause risk to your project delivery. Why would you add this risk to something that you are wanting to deliver? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Managing expectations is your job
Duncan says “It is the role of the project manager to manage expectations to a sensible level.” I agree with this. What I’ve always found useful is to be honest. Under promise and over deliver. That way you always have a sponsor or senior executive who is happy with what you are doing. Ensure that you are on top of all that is happening in the delivery space. From here you can get a feel for if things appear to be going off the rails. Don’t hide that fact, if it’s true. The sooner you call it out and gain support to bring things back on track, the better.
Check to see if you’re speaking the same language
“The pitfall comes when the customer and IT think they are talking the same language when in fact they are not” Oh how common is this mistake. That is why properly defined user requirements are a must. Then the business must let IT do their job in providing the solution that is going to meet their needs, based on the skills and knowledge that IT have. The business MUST butt out of this part of the process.
It’s also important that you, the PM, learn to validate what you’re hearing when speaking to the business. Don’t assume that you understand what they’re saying, check it!
A strong working relationship with the customer is key
“Regular communication and a close working relationship with the customer will help.” Yes it is, and how do you achieve this? Firstly set up your reporting so that it highlights the exceptions. Secondly, be open and honest with everyone. As I spoke about earlier, this is the key to managing expectations. It goes for working within your team too. Spell out the businesses expectations and ask the team what it would take to deliver on them. You don’t know until you ask. Engage and talk to the customer about what they’re seeing when pieces of your project begin to be delivered. Seek their feedback and take it on board. Clear communication is the key to any strong working relationship.
Do you have a foot in both camps?
“What you really need is a person with a foot in both camps. Someone who understands the business and IT equally well” This is a fantastic statement, and something that I strongly believe in. In the role that I have played in projects I do understand enough of the IT side of things to be able to talk technical with the techies, whilst at the same time understanding what the business needs, by understanding the business. It makes a huge difference in delivery, because I don’t have the communication breakdown problems of people not being on the same page all the time. It’s like being an advocate for both sides, in order to keep the balance. This is a great skill for any PM to develop.
Consider these statements and how by following them your project will be better setup for success.