As a project manager, you have one of the hardest jobs in your company: you must align the project with customer expectations.
In a perfect world, you and your customer agree on the cost of the project, the project is completed on time and within budget, and you and the customer continue to do business together for many years.
Clearly we do not live in a perfect world! Despite good intentions, it is far too easy as a to fall prey to common mistakes that work against a successful project plan.
The three common mistakes – and how to avoid them
One of the most common mistakes is that of being overly optimistic. Projects are too often built on best-case scenario assumptions rather than realistic expectations. Instead of planning for the worst and hoping for the best, project managers often plan for the best and simply hope the worst doesn’t happen.
Another common mistake is the assumption that if the project starts to get off track, it will be possible to make it up “on the back end”—as the project winds down. This simply does not happen. Instead, be proactive in getting the project back on track as quickly as possible as soon as things start to go astray.
A third common mistake is risk—or, rather, not accounting for risk at the start of a project and not performing continuous ongoing schedule refinement (including risk) throughout the project lifecycle.
The five Best Practices guiding you through to success
Are there other common mistakes? Sure! My advice is to use the following five best practice points as your guide through the project management process.
1. Build a schedule
One of the first, and most important, aspects of project management is creating a project schedule. Time, resources, costs—all of these rely on a project schedule. Project managers are often eager to start the project as quickly as possible and forgo the schedule. Be patient, and plan. It will help ensure a more successful project.
2. Incorporate risk
The most successful projects account for a wide range of risk factors, from resource challenges to changes in project scope to things like natural disasters. The more risk factors are incorporated into the project schedule, the more likely the project will be completed on time and within budget.
3. Gain team input
The people who put together project schedules often rely on training in math and complex analysis to do their jobs. Yet the execution team will have a far better understanding of the time and resources required to do the work and complete the project. It is critical, therefore, to include input from the execution team and any other teams involved in the project during the scheduling phase to ensure a positive outcome.
4. Require accountability
Particularly if you’ve gotten input and buy in from all project teams, it is important to take that one step further and hold each team accountable for their portion of the project schedule. Making the project a true team effort will increase the likelihood of success.
5. Continue replanning
A project schedule is a great place to start—a critical place, in fact. However, things do change. Consider your schedule a starting point, and don’t be afraid to rework the schedule based on risk factors that have come to fruition or based on any number of additional factors. Costs may change, resources may change, scope may change—any of these will have a significant impact on the overall project. Be sure to plan, and replan, accordingly.
Dan Patterson is VP of product strategy at Deltek.