We all know how projects work, right? Projects have distinct goals and objectives, a fixed beginning point and a planned end point. Typically, they involve assigned teams of people working together. For many of us, a significant chunk of our work is project-based and many of our regular day-to-day meetings revolve around projects.
We also know that projects can go badly!
As executive coaches, we’ve encountered a wide range of reasons that a given project may not go well. We are strong believers in the power of a cohesive team based on Patrick Lencioni’s characteristics of high performing teams — trust, healthy conflict, commitment, accountability, and results.
But other, fundamental missteps can doom a team early on. Here are four critical project management traps to avoid — they will seriously damage any project’s chance of success, including yours!
Scope of Work? What Scope of Work?
Many projects get started with a general, common understanding of the goal or the objective of the work. However without a written, agreed-upon scope of work your project can quickly lose focus. Related ideas will get added to the project. Connected issues and concerns will be raised and bolted onto the original project.
Suddenly, a pricing analysis for your company’s product line now includes packaging redesign and a review of your supply chain! You’ve missed a deliverable deadline and the CEO wants to know what’s going on.
Scope of work helps to set expectations for the group’s work and their time frame. It helps manage the workload and keeps everyone focused on the primary goal of the project. Scope of work also helps the team identify things that are “off the table.” Sometimes, defining what you will not do is as helpful as defining what you will do.
It requires discipline. It’s not easy to say no — and many add-ons can be readily rationalized. But, like kudzu, it could overwhelm and kill your project. (For more about “No,” read Arden Coaching’s “The Power of Saying No”).
Set Priorities… and Forget Them
Once projects get started, things can change. What team, undertaking a significant project, has never encountered an unexpected hurdle, a complication, a false assumption, or a sudden change in their business environment?
But we tend to forget that. We identify our priorities and charge ahead.
Strong project management requires that priorities be revisited on a regular basis. We need to be adaptable and agile. What are the three most important things we should be doing now? Has anything changed that we should consider? Do we need to regroup — and yes, even ask, do we need to revise our scope of work? For more, read “Are You Working on the Right Things?”
Project teams remind us of multi-celled organisms. They are made up of specific individuals, but in coming together, teams evolve into a distinct organism of their own. They develop their own personality; their own vibe; their own rhythm.
If a project leader does not recognize this, they will fail to establish important routines and habits critical to the health and well-being of the team. Routines such as meeting times (and length), expectations about behavior within the group, consistent approaches to delegating and getting the work done, making decisions, and how the team communicates with senior leaders create a sense of steady reliability — a team culture. Defining and agreeing upon these habits and behaviors is typically referred to as setting up a team’s “rules of engagement.”
The work of teams that do not establish rules of engagement often feels random to their members. At best, it’s an energy drainer — “Are we meeting this week?” “Did you tell the VP about our new recommendation, or was I supposed to do that?” At worst, it’s a chaotic disaster — “Last week we thoroughly discussed Shelia’s recommendation and voted. Today, the project leader listened to Aaron’s suggestion and unilaterally shot it down. What’s going on?”
Didn’t You Get My Memo?
Today we enjoy remarkable advances in communication and information-sharing technology. That also gives us choices — sometimes too many choices.
Left unmanaged, one person may prefer email and sending attachments. Another loves to text people. Another uses their phone. Yet another person loves Google Drive and another is a big fan of the online tool the company purchased.
Regardless, agree to a project management communication and information-sharing process or platform and stick to it. Drive everything through that platform, from alerts that the regular Tuesday meeting is going to start 30 minutes later to sharing analytical reports created by team members to assess key recommendations.
Get these project management elements right, and you’ll give your project a fighting chance — and help you and your team focus on positive working relationships and the substance of your project work.
To learn more about leading projects, high performing teams and executive leadership, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.