I decided to do something a little different. Rather than keep dolling out advice from my own experiences and observations, I decided to reach out to some trusted colleagues and some digital acquaintances for project management tips to pass along to our readers.
I asked respected project managers for some tips that aren’t necessarily things you’d find on a best practices list or in a PMI book somewhere. As a result, I have a group of these tips that may form the basis of several articles – but at least for now I’ll discuss five to get started.
1. Don’t rush to start
Start the project off right. It’s worth its weight in gold. High customer satisfaction and confidence is great…and a good way to start any project. A poor start – usually the result of a poorly planned or orchestrated project kickoff meeting – can take weeks or months to recover from…if you ever do truly recover. It’s like an awkward first date that won’t return your phone calls. So prepare sufficiently – and then some – for the project kickoff. And afterwards, if it appears that there are some disconnects with the project sponsor, then stop the forward motion of the project immediately and work out any kinks. Apply training if necessary (I did this once), send them back to do a better job mapping their business processes and needs (did this at least three times), or add more planning to the front of the project (who hasn’t had to do this?). But don’t rush to start – even though you may be getting pressure from senior management it may be the worst thing you can do.
2. Never rush to finish
Likewise, don’t rush to finish the project. Everyone is excited to get a long-term project done and off the books. Plus, everyone likely already has their next big assignment. But issues are issues and even if the project customer says they’ll allow deployment with a few issues outstanding, it’s really important to make sure all the I’s are dotted and all the T’s are crossed. It can really leave a sour taste in a customer’s mouth if you closeout a project – and customer – before everything is truly accomplished, no matter what they say. Sort of like your wife saying, “Sure, I don’t mind if you go out tonight with your friends.” Be afraid…be very afraid.
3. Make all meetings count
This is a big one. Don’t be the poor meeting manager. Don’t be the project manager who just calls meetings whenever he wants or every time an issue arises. Other forms of communication can go a long way in disseminating information to the project team than just an organized conference call – or worse – a face-to-face meeting. Save those for what really matters and definitely conduct them when necessary. Have those weekly team meetings and formal weekly status calls with the customer. Don’t cancel them no matter how little you have to cover. Consistency with your team and customer is just as important as not wasting their time. If you start to cancel too many meetings then the meetings you do hold will seem less relevant – they won’t take you seriously and participation will drop fast.
4. Verify/discuss any work estimates
I’ve been a developer so I understand this one. Padding is common…not because they’re lazy. Not even close. But because they don’t want to be wrong the bad way. I can understand that, but it leaves project managers with project prices and change order prices that are harder to sell to the project customer. I’ve personally used my fairly good estimating skills to double-check my developers on all change orders. I’ll do my own estimate before I see theirs and anything that is way off is concerning. But no matter what, it’s important for the project manager – no matter how technically competent or technically inept – to gather the team and talk through estimates and change orders before sending them on to the customer for review/approval. The last thing you ever want to do is give your customer the idea that you’re trying to gouge them on price. Most project teams are never trying to do this, but without proper review and Q&A, it can happen and appear that way. Avoid it – discuss before sending. You won’t be sorry.
5. Customers don’t like to see you as much as you think they do
Finally, understand that – for some customers at least – the less they see you and your team the less uncomfortable they are. They need to know you are making great progress – but they can see that in the status reports you’re providing, the schedule updates you’re sending to them, and the status calls you have with them every week. If they are physically seeing you a lot, then they start to think about how much they must be paying for you and that makes them uncomfortable. And if they see you sitting down on the job – like that plumber you called last week and you were wondering how much of his lunch break you were paying for – well, they just may start to not appreciate your efforts as much. This isn’t true of all project customers, I realize. But some do feel this way…be aware. Virtual teams and remote project management really DOES have it’s place and it is with this types of customers especially.
Thoughts? Do you agree with these? Have some of your own to share? Please share from your own thoughts and experiences and offer input to the ones I’ve written about here. Thank you.