Attend any of our Project Management classes lately, regardless of the length of the class, and the same three things keep coming up over and over and over. The studies from Gardner and Standish, and even reports from Project Management Institute show disproportionately high numbers of projects that have failed. Depending on which study you follow, some report 55% to 75% of business projects that fail to achieve all that they set out to do: the scope is insufficient or less than promised, time takes longer than planned, and the cost exceeds the expected budget for the project.
Settling on something like 2/3 then (if it’s more than half and less than 3/4) of projects just getting done the way they should. So what are we to do about it? Well, we focus in on the three most likely areas of rest. The 80/20 Rule, if you will, the Pareto Principle. What are the biggest causes of pain, and how do I fix those first?
Communication, or rather ineffective communication, continues to be the leading cause of pain, followed quickly by role responsibility pain, and ineffective risk management. This is not new. How about some practical tips to overcome them?
Communicate freely, openly, candidly, and with compassion about expectations. Is the sponsor, project manager, or any team member an idealist? Then gently and compassionately set expectations that perfection is not likely. Start talking about contingencies, mitigation strategies, and back up plans. Prioritize the most important work sooner rather than later.
Communicate consistently and continually. In our busy lives, where we are constantly inundated with more than we can possibly consume or absorb, even important information sometimes gets missed or falls through the cracks. Set up a recurring time on your own calendar to send, receive, decode, or help someone else with messages related to the project at hand. Did you send a message last week and haven’t heard back? Take the time to follow-up, and try a different approach (like a phone call, text, or stop by their desk, rather than another email.)
Identify, and communicate, who will be doing what. As best I can tell, after many years of experience, projects don’t do themselves. The project work we need to get done, regardless of timeline or scope or scale, still requires human beings to get it done. Since what’s in my head and what’s in your head are not the same, wouldn’t it be faster if we took a moment to communicate the stuff in my head and yours to make sure we get on the same page about which one of us is doing which work and what the expectations are? What may have seemed direct to you, may have come across to someone else as a suggestion.
Make sure that anyone who has work to do on the project is aware of the schedule, and has the capacity and the time carved out to do so.How often do we proceed forward with an effort, an idea, or thing we’re working on, without really making sure that the time is available to put to it and to do it well. I read a statistic a while ago, I think it was based on 2013 data, that said we can afford to do about 60% of what we want to do in business. Which means there’s a whole bunch of stuff that we want to get done that we can’t even afford to do. My guess is, for us on an individual scale, our list of to do’s exceeds our average daily capacity. Let’s start by talking it through. By making a decent plan for how we will get the work done.
Carve out a few minutes, on a regular basis, to talk through risks and issues. What is currently in the way of our success, and what could be in the way of our success based on what we know now. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen project teams create a risk list, and even go so far as to prioritize, but then set the list aside in favor of the tyranny of the urgent. Keep your risks in front of you. Make it safe to talk about the top three things that could possibly go wrong. Ask team members to identify new risks that they are aware of. Talk about them, identify response strategies, and then act on those plans.
Sinikka's Final Tip
Honestly, I believe that these ideas are based on best practices. And I believe, when they are overlooked, it’s not because anyone deliberately wants to exclude them, but that we’re not intentional about being good stewards of our time.