The concept of project management is simple. Organize your efforts to see improved results. However, the execution of this idea often turns out to be more complex. If you’re struggling with your project management, take a look at the reasons behind your challenger, but avoid falling victim to common project management myths on the way.
In our previous article, we went through the purpose, methods, and results of good project management. This breakdown gives you an idea of what your project managers do and how they’ll do it. Take a look back to give yourself a refresher if you’re still waiting to build your project management team or you’re already experiencing challenges. In this article, we’ll take you through some of the common myths that lead to poor project management and show you how to avoid and fix the underlying issues. First, let’s take a look at what you should and shouldn’t expect from your project management team.
What to expect from your project management team
Your project management team is the operational backbone of your organization. So, if it seems like your processes are lacking structure, this is the first place to look. You should expect transparent, frequent communication from your team members and improvements in how your team completes their work. If there are any major hang-ups, your project managers should let you know and clearly explain what’s happening and what they need.
With that said, you shouldn’t expect your project managers to be mind readers. If your team has an issue that they’re not clearly communicating to the PMs, they won’t understand what’s going on or know how to help. Frequent communication does not mean micromanaging. In fact, micromanaging staff negatively affects their productivity and may make them hesitant when approaching new projects. Your project managers should guide without smothering your staff.
If you expected a different outcome from your project managers, first, put yourself in their part of the situation and imagine why you would have approached it that way. If something still doesn’t add up, ask the team for more information. Often, if you’re aware that there’s a better solution and they didn’t choose it, they may not be aware of the better choice. Rarely do people intentionally make bad decisions. So, understand the problem, fix it at its source, and move on before it affects your team’s productivity.
Tips on project management that appear to be common knowledge may not be as simple as they appear. This is why it’s crucial to understand the myths about project management so you can steer clear of the resulting confusion.
Knowledge is power
Failure is a part of success. If you aim to have a perfect result for every project, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, learn every chance you get. This is the only true way to protect yourself against the challenges that will inevitably arise. For your staff, this may mean frequent training, webinars, industry talks, or shadowing more experienced professionals. Ensure that you incentivize your employees to learn and that you don’t miss the opportunities to apply their knowledge. Understanding a concept is not enough. You have to be able to put it to work.
External learning resources are not your only option for avoiding trouble. Make a note of your past projects and see how the steps you followed led to the eventual outcome. This method especially helps because your team experienced the situation firsthand. Look at it as a case study. Approaching it from a distance avoids unhelpful criticism and instead fosters growth. Encourage your team to pick apart their experiences to gain further knowledge.
Common myths about project management
While searching for answers, our brains tend to gravitate towards the simplest solution. However, there are cases in which the simplest solution is not necessarily the correct one. Knowledge is the best defense against these errors and can help you understand the bigger problems at hand.
Rather than giving in to frustration, arm your staff with knowledge and encourage them to learn if you find your team playing into the mix of project management. Here are a couple of the most common myths and tools to tackle the larger problem at hand.
1. You need constant change
As we discussed in our article on decision making, inaction is also a form of action. Choosing not to act is a decision that bears equal weight on your progress. While changing your current approach gives the illusion of productivity, it may derail well-planned efforts. Approach change with care and make sure that there’s a good reason for it. You can protect yourself from falling into this trap by coming up with reasons why you shouldn’t alter your course of action as well as why you should. This helps you think more critically about your options and choose the most appropriate follow-up.
Like any other employee, project managers will have busier and slower days. This doesn’t mean that they are less productive. Providing they’re getting the right results, a calm day means that they’ve planned well and can resort to a more oversight-based role. Reporting should back up the results and point to a well-structured approach.
2. Everybody understands the end goal
Communication is not often as simple as it seems. Even though you may understand what you’re trying to communicate, the message’s recipient will interpret it with their own filter. Make sure that you ask detailed questions to clarify that you’re on the same page. If not, your idea of success and the other persons may be fundamentally out of sync. Make sure that you do this with all stakeholders on a project, so your result is what both you and your client expect. Like many things in life, communication is key.
3. You can get by fine without project management software
While you may be able to do some parts of project management without using specialized software, it will be more resource-intensive and demanding than using the appropriate software in the first place. If you spend time researching what software you need and planning out how you’ll use it before purchasing it, you’ll make up for the investment in the time and materials you’ve saved with proper organization. Don’t be afraid to schedule demos and take time making your choice. That said, be sure to make your choice and stick with it. If you need project managers, you need project management software. A expecting a team to work without the means of performing their job is like asking a carpenter to build a house without any tools.
4. Anticipating issues leads to failure
Some individuals might be apprehensive to consider future problems because of a nearly superstitious mindset. Ignoring risks will not make them go away. Instead, carefully analyze your approach and test each element. Discuss the pros and cons of each step with your team and imagine where you might encounter challenges. This way, you’ll know what to look out for and can plan to deal with the issues if they do come up. This step also helps you minimize your risk and choose a balanced approach for the project at hand.
5. You must finish the project exactly as designed
After investing a good deal of time, effort, or resources into a project, it can be hard to admit that something needs to change. This is partly because of the sunk cost fallacy in which we look at our past efforts instead of the current situation when evaluating our plans. If you’ve been trying to make your approach work with no results, stop and consider where you are now. Do you want to keep investing more time and effort into something that doesn’t work or try a new approach that may make the process easier? Consider your previous investment a learning experience. Document it, see how it happened, and use this knowledge to avoid future complications.
6. Your employees should perform multiple roles
Versatile team members are desirable assets within small companies and startups. However, spreading your employees too thin means that they won’t have the opportunity to fully devote their efforts to any one goal. Sit down with your team and plan what they will and won’t work on to make wiser choices with their time and resources. This keeps him focused on the task at hand and minimizes distractions. Then, your results reflect the full capability of your team instead of a mixed effort spread across multiple projects.
Even though many people like to think of themselves as gifted multitaskers, evidence shows that people function better when they focus all of their efforts on one goal. Even if you have a staff of multi-talented employees, encourage them to focus on one area and learn all the skills needed for that particular task. Don’t risk missing an opportunity to develop new competencies in favor of doing what they’re already good at.
7. Your customer knows how to get exactly what they want
Let’s be frank: if your customers knew how to get exactly what they wanted, they’d be doing it themselves. They may have an end goal in mind and may know some of the steps they think will help them arrive at that goal, but ultimately you are the experts in your field. Take your clients’ feedback seriously but do not let them direct the entire plan. Ultimately, if you allow too much interference, both parties will end up frustrated at the lack of results. This disconnect damages your overall relationship. Instead, consider the essence of what they’re asking for and suggest constructive ways that will get them there. Don’t be afraid to break down the reasoning behind why you’re doing what you’re doing and answer their questions. Again, while they may understand what they want, you are their guide to getting there.
8. Your process defines your outcome
Well-documented processes are an important factor in project management. However, they’re only one of the elements that determine your overall success. Problems with your project management are not always problems with your processes. When you see issues with your processes, check that your staff understands the reasoning behind the procedures, how they work, and how to use them successfully. If they understand these factors, see why they lack buy-in and address that issue at its root. Getting their input on the issue will show you how to address it.
9. Documentation comes second to action
Human beings gravitate towards action. However, make sure that you carefully plan before taking your next steps. This helps you calculate your path and consider all of the choices at hand before resorting to impulsive moves. The best way to do this is to write out the reasoning behind your next step in the context of the existing plan and then come up with reasons that both justify and negate your choice. Afterward, you can examine what decisions did and did not get you closer to your goal and the reasoning behind them. Now, add in the new information, review the logs, and use them to get a better outcome with your next task.
10. You can solve all of your problems with technology
While there’s something to be said for the costs of avoiding technology, they’re equal arguments against relying too much on it. Technology can support a good plan but does not fix issues that run deeper than your tools. Before spending unnecessarily on new software, consider what need you’re trying to address and any other approaches that can resolve the situation. It can be challenging to get your team to shift to one new program, let alone several, so make sure that you’re not overwhelming them with too many tools. This extra step makes sure they can use the tools they already have more efficiently.
Project management is a necessary function in the business world. However, while necessary, it’s not always easy. When you find that your project managers are experiencing problems, take the time to sit down and think critically about the challenges they’re facing and the real reasons why they’re happening. You’ll often find that previous assumptions you had about how things work will be proven wrong. Though counterintuitive at first, being proven wrong is a gift that helps you align your thinking closer with reality. When you do this, your planning will direct you closer to the outcome you seek.
If you and your team are struggling to identify the root of your problems, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a multitude of professionals trained in developing better project management approaches, including small business advisors, fractional CMOs, and fractional COOs. How can you take the first steps? Do the best you can to identify and resolve your problems first, and then bring in an extra hand as soon as it’s needed. Better yet, bring in a professional when designing your approach so you can avoid problems in the first place. A fractional CMO or fractional COO can help you get started and advise you from the start. For more information on who can help and how to see what a small business advisor can do for you.