Projects are hard to manage. Big and small – no doubt. In the world of project management, not everything is always how it seems or should seem. When a project comes to you you may think that it should be ready to manage. Your superiors should have more experience and PM or leadership knowledge than you. The project finances should be straightforward.
I’m not saying project management is difficult…I don’t have to tell you that because you already know it is. However, things aren’t always how you would expect them to be so go into each project like it’s a fresh clean slate and with lots of facts to be questioned, assumptions to be analyzed and questions to be asked.
Let’s review some of my key project management tips that I’ve discovered over the years…
Your customer may not know the real issue that’s creating the project need. This one happens all the time. The customer thinks he needs a new CRM system. Turns out what he really needs is the entire underlying HR, accounting and reservation system re-worked in order to solve all of his real problems because they are all home-grown patched up pieces of software that will never talk accurately or efficiently with the new solution you build for customer relationship management – or anything off the shelf you bring in and customize.
You probably have a better resume than the person you report to.
This may come as a surprise, but if you have a few years of proven PM experience you probably look better on paper than whoever you are reporting to. With my VP at one of my first companies here in Las Vegas, that was the case. As we were gathering resumes to create an experience portfolio to use for winning projects, out Vegas office admin pointed that at to me – she sort of reported to both of us but he was her boss on paper. At my next organization that was the case with my PMO Director. It was the case at one early company where I was leading large multi-million $$ government contracts. Mostly because I was more of the hands-on doer…as you probably are…and they were more of the resource manager.
The financial part isn’t that easy to manage.
You probably aren’t thinking it’s a cake walk to manage. Nothing financial ever really is. Most of us really stink at it personally. I do. But professionally – on projects and consulting engagements, thankfully, I’m much better at it. Just be sure to make a good friend/contact in accounting who will help you get accurate project financials every week and use those to keep the financial health picture and the financial forecast up-to-date every week so the budget never runs away from you. Skip it for even one week and you could be in real trouble. Imagine 30 different people writing checks or holding ATM cards to your personal bank account. That’s what’s happening on your projects. Be careful…watch the finances very closely.
You’ll always have change orders.
You can say, “I’m excellent at managing scope.” You can say, “there’s going to be no real need for a change order process.” Right. Every project has change. Every project has customers requesting something that isn’t in the original requirements. Requirements always change at least a little. I worked at one organization as the Vegas PM head and we won a huge project because our CEO promised no change orders no matter what. Then he took his own life early in the project. Talk about major change. It shut the company down. There’s your change.
Your customer has many other priorities.
Finally, this may be a huge project to you, but to your project sponsor – at least on some engagements – this may be just some stupid project dumped on him that he now has to watch over while he works 110% on everything else he’s responsible for. So it may not be his top priority and when you go looking for him for decisions, information, clarifications and meetings, it may be hard to find him or pin him down to specific dates, times and commitments. Am I telling you that you might find yourself frustrated by the customer’s lack of engagement? Yes. You may have to find creative ways to keep him engaged. Think up tasks you can assign him to so he will have to make himself available for weekly project status meetings to talk about his tasks. Good luck!
Summary / call for input
No one ever said project management was easy. In fact, it can be incredibly hard. And every project is different from the last. Every customer is different. And no matter how clearly laid out your PM processes are in your organization, just know that you will always have to customize them to some degree for each project. Roll with the changes and needs of the project.
What about our readers? What would you add to this list? Do you agree with this list? If you’re a very experienced PM, what do you wish you knew then that you know now?