Ok, nobody is perfect. But as project managers we must hold ourselves to a high standard as we are trusted and leading highly skilled teams and anxious customers toward a hopefully successful project solution. We do our best when leading projects but it will never be perfect, never really be enough to cover everything and ensure that all is running smoothly, everyone has all the information they need, everyone is on the same page and the customer is 100% satisfied. It's not unlike marriage. You may think it's all perfect till you wake up one day and find out it's not because you've been ignoring something or not fully or properly communicating. You never know how what you are leaving out affects those around you or the project you are managing. It's not always the things you say and do – it may be the things left unsaid or what you didn't do.
The important thing? Stick to best practices. Do what you said you would do. Manage thoroughly and stay connected. Listen well. Follow up with everyone frequently. The frequent communication and touch points are more important than you think. We all make mistakes every time out. For me, it usually comes down to this list. I think we are all probably guilty of the things listed here on likely every project every time out. Be aware. Consider these...
Not much to talk about at this week’s team meeting or at the weekly formal customer status meeting? Then just cancel it, right? Wrong! Canceling project meetings during slow times is a very bad habit to get into. People who are supposed to attend regularly and contribute may start to consider your meetings as less important than other work they need to do and your overall attendance may dwindle. People have other meetings they could be attending or other work to do – likely on some other important project they are working on. Don't give them a reason to start skipping your meetings. At that point you will be missing key stakeholders and contributors when you need them most. They won't be available for that next important decision. Empty seats mean project trouble, extra meetings to get the info you badly need and discussions that are time wasters when you could have just obtained the info in the meeting you canceled. So never cancel - even if you just go around the room for a brief update from each attendee. You never know when you’ll catch a critical piece of info or an update that means a lot to someone there but otherwise would have just fallen through the cracks. And the attendees will be happy your meeting lasted only 15 minutes – they will consider your meetings as important and not time wasters.
Assuming everyone is on the same page.
The worst thing you can do as a project manager is assume anything. Especially when it focuses on communication. In my opinion effective and efficient communication is Job One for the project manager. Always communicate well and follow up after meeting with notes to make sure everyone exited with the same info and understanding. Otherwise you may have individuals heading off on new tasks or making key decisions based on inaccurate info or understanding. That will always result in problems, re-work and extra time and $$ spent that you can’t afford to lose.
Failing to communicate.
Communication is Job One for the project manager as I stated above. No project manager runs through every project communicating efficiently, effectively and perfectly throughout the entire engagement. We've all dropped the ball at some point. Whether it's a fail in keeping our team informed, listening properly to an update or key information input from a team member or some other update from the customer or a stakeholder on the project... it has happened... on every single project we've ever managed.
Forgetting to highlight the wins.
On just about every project we manage there are some extraordinary efforts that we let go unnoticed or fail to pay attention to as project managers. It is critical that we as team managers and project leaders pay attention to the big efforts and big wins on the projects and call out those individuals – or the entire team – as they happen. And it's nice to tell the team “good job!” But is that enough? Maybe. But an even better thing is to announce it to the enterprise. Put out a company-wide email project status update calling out the excellent performance of those involved. You'll get rewarded as a project leader tenfold from your team and the individuals called out in the form future respect and project performance. It's truly a win-win situation.
Asking the customer.
Are you reaching out to the customer? Involving them enough in key decisions? Asking them periodically how they think things are going... is there anything concerning them? Do they feel well informed? Don't let trouble or concerns brew. Customers always have some level of concern – it's their nature and they may or may not feel that they are being full informed. You won't know until you ask. So ask. You many uncover a concern they have that you didn't know about but can very quickly alleviate by bringing them up to speed in a certain area... or showing them that there is no need to be concerned. Perhaps the result will be adding a little info to the status report every week. Ask – you won't be sorry.
Summary / call for input
The bottom line is this – no one is perfect and we are all making mistakes every time out on ever project. We are probably making five others on every project. Look at any red flags from the team, customer, stakeholders, senior management – even your gut – and don't take them lightly. Address them and move on. Usually there is no big issue and an extra five minutes spent here or there communicating or investigating is well worth the time and effort.
How about our readers? How do you feel about this list? What would you add to it? Please share your experiences and thoughts and discuss further.