Three pronged strategy for new project managers

You have been a successful techie for several years. You have been working as a team leader at your current job for past eighteen months and you have just successfully completed a huge in-house software development project. Your project manager just got transferred to PMO with a promotion and you are the natural choice of your company to fill that vacant slot.  The company sends you for in-house project management training so that you understand the company’s processes and follow the guidelines of the PMO.  You are excited but bit nervous about your new role. You have acquired the theoretical knowledge about project management methodology and the company’s processes from the training you just completed but you do not know how to effectively implement them in your project.  At this stage anybody would be nervous as wise men said, “you do not know what you do not know”.

Relax! Here are the strategies to function effectively as a project manager and if you follow my simple albeit effective guidelines, you will be very successful in your new role as a project manager.

Step 1:  Understand top ten reasons of a project failure and proactively plan to avoid them.

Step 2:  A project manager spends over 80% of the time communicating. Have a solid communication plan not just a strategy.

Step 3:  Change is inevitable in a project. The problem is not the change itself but how you manage a change. Learn how to manage changes.

Let’s start with step one: Top ten reasons of a project failure.

1. Poor planning: Planning is the most important step of project management process. Half of the battle is won when you plan well. Coordinate with the project participants and the stakeholders to develop a detailed plan for the assigned project. Involve your project team members in planning and have the team buy-in. Prepare project scope, statements of work, work breakdown structures, task estimates, and specific tasks and milestones. Plan resources and schedule for your project implementation. Proactively plan effectively all anticipated bottlenecks, which include but not limited to management escalation, project prioritization, finding the right trade-offs between the business needs versus technical as well as triple constraints namely; scope, cost and schedule.

 2. Unclear goals and objectives: Many IT projects are elaborated progressively and in these scenarios you as a project manager need to rely on rolling wave planning. Initially the goal of your project may be only partially clear due to a poor requirement gathering in the definition stage of the project and you may not have clear picture of the scope and the schedule.  Defining clear requirements for a project can take time and lots of communication. You need to have expertise in rolling wave planning and that is where you should proactively focus.  You have strengths as well as weakness in this area. Being a technical team leader you can clearly view where the project is heading and you can very well anticipate the technical requirements and the future enhancements but at the same time you do not know how to plan for something that may be the future requirements. The best thing to do in such scenario is to rely on expert judgment.  Find project managers within your organization who have experience in rolling wave planning and seek their guidance. Your strategy should be to combine your technical expertise with experts’ judgments so that you can plan for your project that going to be progressively elaborated.

3. Poor Stakeholder Management: Identify stakeholders and bring them early. Project stakeholders’ interests may be positively or negatively impacted by the project and that is why stakeholders’ influence on the project is the most important thing to consider. Stakeholders who are found later will make changes and could cause delays. Any change that is made later is harder to integrate and is much more costly.

4. Scope creep and Feature creep due to objectives changing during the project: Scope creep refers to uncontrolled and unexpected changes in user expectations and requirements as a project progress, while feature creep refers to uncontrolled addition of features to a system with a wrong assumption that one small feature will add nothing to cost or schedule. Understand project trade-offs and make decisions regarding objectives on the basis of rational insight. Try to prevent project scope and feature creeps by implementing effective scope control methodology.

5. Unrealistic time or resource estimates: Many times project managers makes costly mistakes while estimating time or resources. Always work in a collaborative environment with the team and have the team buy-in and also consult with the project stakeholders as much as possible while preparing the detail project scope statement so that you do not make costly mistakes while preparing the WBS. Also employ effective techniques to estimate the amount of time each activity is expected to take. Be careful not to (common mistake new project managers make) use linear approximation when estimating the schedule For example, if you double the number of developers, you can cut the project time in half. In reality, doubling the number of developers produces a non-linear result.

6. Improper delegation of task and responsibilities: Many times project managers fail to delegate task and responsibilities to the team such a way that it should fit a team member’s job description. Organize the team such way that everybody should work under his/her own specialization so that the team as a cohesive whole performs the work diligently and within time and budget and thus raise efficiency above standard.

7. Lack of executive support and user involvement: Carefully listen to the executive management and the project sponsor and try to find out whether they have reservations about the project. If so, what is their vision for the project and what are their business objectives of the project. Try to work as an interface between the business and technology sides of the company so that you help our company align business with its projects.

8. Failure to communicate and act as a team: Projects sometimes fail due to improper communication.  A great deal of a project manger’s time is spent on communicating. We will discuss more about communication strategy in step-2.

9. Lack of proper risk management: Another potential cause for project failure is the IT managers’ inability to categorize all the risks qualitatively and quantitatively and implement corrective measures. Identify past, present and potential risks that the current project faced, facing or will face in the near future. Carefully and methodically categorize all the risks qualitatively and quantitatively and implement corrective measures. Assign one or two persons from your team as risk owners. These persons identify the risks, discuss the risks with the team and the project manager, find solutions and implement them.

10. Inappropriate skills: In this rapidly changing, technology-driven business environment and the constant changes of technology make it hard to predict skills the IT department will need. Almost all large IT projects require a diverse range of skills. Many teams lack the breadth, and depth they require.  Plan proactively for your resource requirements and make sure that everybody works under his/her own specialization. Have a solid plan for the skills your project requires. Work with your HR manager to evaluate all alternatives, which may include but not limited to hiring contractors, outsourcing, providing training to existing team members etc.

In step 2, we will discuss about communication and how to have a solid communication plan not just a strategy.

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