Advice for Project Managers: Don’t get Burnt…

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Advice for Project Managers: Don’t get Burnt…

As a project management trainer, I’ve lost track of the number of project managers and aspiring project managers that I’ve met over the years. What a lot of them have in common is that they’ve been asked to manage projects because they are good at something else! They have specialist skills, technical skills, trade skills, call them what you want.

This background gives the project managers confidence that they understand the detail of the work to be carried out because they are capable of doing that work themselves, or understand how it will be done. The focus of their attention is the technical work. Isn’t that what projects are about?

Why Projects Fail

It’s rarely technical work that causes projects to fail. It tends to be other issues that scupper success; things that need project management skills rather than technical skills to solve. Here are just a few of the obstacles to project success that project managers need to understand and navigate:

  • Stakeholders interfering or changing their minds
  • Stakeholders wanting to add elements to the project
  • Resources not being available when they’re needed
  • The cart arriving ceremoniously before the horse!
  • Lack of clarity around what is required in the first place
  • Team members doing work that isn’t needed
  • Team members missing work out because it hasn’t been specified – even though it is needed
  • Arguments occurring because even though work has been done well, it hasn’t been done the way the customer wanted it

Dealing with the Unexpected

Often it is the unexpected that throws the project off course. Things that no-one had thought about even though they could have been anticipated. Sometimes the same unexpected events affect project after project after project. And what should happen when things go wrong?

Who should the project manager (PM) turn to and how much authority does the PM really have? What should the PM do when work or supplies are costing more than originally estimated, or when they take longer to be delivered? Should they just ask for more time, more money, people, equipment, or even more facilities?

How Project Management overcomes Challenges

None of these challenges are that hard to overcome. Project management is full of simple ideas, tools and techniques that are designed to help deal with exactly these sorts of problems, perhaps to prevent them from happening in the first place or, at worst, to minimise the effect of them and to make them easier to resolve.

If you’ve come from a technical background, as I did, you may not have encountered these ideas and you could find yourself starting from scratch, suffering the same pain as other PM’s have suffered and are suffering.

There’s an image of a T-shirt on the internet. I have no idea who owns the intellectual property and I hope they won’t mind me quoting their creation. The T-shirt reads: “Being a Project Manager is easy. It’s like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire. You’re on fire. Everything is on fire and you’re in hell.”

It doesn’t have to be that way! Even a day or two of training can put you back in control – can help you put out the fires and stop new ones from starting. Someone on a course this week said “I didn’t realise there was this structure I could use. This will make it so much easier to deliver.”

You don’t have to be on fire. Get yourself a fire extinguisher and a flame-retardant suit. Get some project management training!


Steve Browne is an independent accredited project management trainer and consultant.

Further Reading

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  • How to Save a Life

  • Transforming ICT – for Now and the Future

 
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