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No project finishes up without a few problems. That’s just the way project work is. When people are involved, there are going to be problems. But that doesn’t mean that your problems have to completely derail your project. Not all problems are equal. Some are worse than others. In this blog, I will help you avoid some of the more deadly project pitfalls.

Focus on the why before the how

One of biggest problems I see in project work is a lack of clarity on the overall vision or direction. People get so bogged down on the details, or the ‘how?’ that they forget the big picture, or the ‘why?’

While most trained project managers would consider a charter to be a requirement, less experienced project managers may not understand the value. I have written before on project charters here.

Read: Supercharge your Project Charter by Understanding 5 Essentials

Agree on a realistic plan of action

No two projects are alike and it is important to agree on how you want to approach and manage your project. Are you clear on the overall project scope, as well as what is needed for each major activity? Have you determined which deadlines are critical and agreed on how the remaining items will be managed? Does everyone agree on how often the team will meet, and what will be done in meetings, as well as what will be done to prepare for meetings? Effective project planning can make or break your project. If you want more help, check out this blog.

Read: 6 Project Planning Steps to Boost Results

Understand all of your stakeholders

A disgruntled person in your project life can make everyone’s life more difficult. Team members who are not invested are going to be a drag on your schedule. Do you know why your team members are working on your project? Do you know all of your stakeholders, and any “hot buttons?”

In today’s world, fewer and fewer team members are able to give you a schedule of availability. The old fashioned way of scheduling projects just doesn’t work when you really don’t know exactly who will be available from month to month.

We need to move from worrying about resource availability to focusing on getting teams committed to providing value to the client (or management). This requires that we understand what makes people tick. It means we need people with high emotional intelligence. It helps when people on the team care about each other and can support each other during difficult times.

Have a communications plan

Projects often have large numbers of people who have involvement, in some fashion or another. It might be people on the implementation team, or it might be customers of your client who will find their operations impacted if a technology conversion goes awry. The first step is to understand your stakeholders, but after that, you need to focus on how you plan to communicate with everyone.

It’s naïve to think that everyone will read your email, postal mailing, or text. Now, we have so many different ways of communicating that communications are actually harder…. So, that means we have to have a documented plan.

Focus on building the project sponsor/manager/team relationships.

Lack of executive support and/or funding can be the death knell for a project. That’s why it’s essential to remain in close contact with your project sponsor. This starts at the beginning and doesn’t end until the project is completely wrapped up. Hopefully, for your sake, the sponsor doesn’t change in the middle of the project.

Do everything you can to avoid surprises. No one loves finding out that funding for a project is being cut. So, are you regularly evaluating the business value that the project adds and sharing that information with the team and the sponsor? If you’re working in a smaller organization and cash flow is problematic, are you scheduling more expensive activities when the cash flow is stronger, or the reverse? Are you watching deadlines to ensure that the critical ones will not be missed?

Pay attention to the project details.

If you plan on keeping surprises to a minimum, it’s essential that your project managers understand how to plan, track, and manage project details. It’s not just about schedule, scope and cost, though those are really important.

Are you defining the quality of each activity before you create your budget and then testing that quality when you are executing the project? I’ve written about that here. What about risks, issues, and procurement contract requirements? Do you have a process for ensuring the lessons observed become lessons learned?

Read: Are you Waiting Too Long to Test for Project Quality

Pick a strong project manager.

We all wish that every project had a strong, capable, and knowledgeable project manager with high emotional intelligence. There are many different project management approaches and certification programs. Many of them are focused on teaching highly technical concepts, such as earned value management, fault tree analysis, Ishikawa and Pareto diagrams, complicated schedule management approaches, and a whole new lingo.

Yet, when you understand that your project manager is really a people manager, you might wonder why people management is under taught. If you have an employee who is just naturally great with people and details, give me a call to talk about training. Before you shell out dollars and time on project management training, get some free advice on what you really need. I can help you avoid the deadly project pitfalls.