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What Most Companies Get Wrong About Project Management?

by: Shiv Sharma
What Most Companies Get Wrong About Project Management?

A simple search on books about project management gives 6437 results on Goodreads. It’s a heavily studied and scrutinized discipline.

Most experts agree on the important principles of project management, such as – set clear goals, make people accountable, follow-up regularly, etc. Most organizations are also aware of these principles. Why then a large number of projects continue to fail?

According to a report by KPMG, 70% of organizations experienced project failure in the past year. Around 50% of professionals stated that their projects failed to consistently achieve what they planned. Both you and I can relate to it.

Failure is an intrinsic part of project management. After all, no one has a crystal ball to predict the future. And a big part of project management is doing precisely that. 

We can’t make project management immune to failure. What we can do is to learn from our own and others’ experiences to ensure that the same mistakes aren’t repeated each time. As long as each failure teaches you something new, you’re on the right track. 

In this post, we’ll look at the things most companies get wrong about project management. These principles are based on what we have learned over the years from helping thousands of companies manage projects better. 

Myth #1 – PM tools eliminate the need for project managers

project-managers-not-replaced-by-tools

Cloud-based project management tools have revolutionized how organizations approach project management. Earlier organizations were reliant on consultants and tedious tools that required certification. Now, for a fraction of the cost, companies can adopt a project management tool that’s easy to use. 77% of high performing projects use a project management tool according to PWC

PM tools have automated more than 50% of traditional project management tasks such as creating reports, following up, sending reminders, analyzing workload, etc. According to Gartner, by 2030, 80% of all project management tasks would be automated.  

Such stats can encourage one to think that the role of a project manager might be obsolete in a few years. This isn’t true. In fact, automating tasks would free the project managers to focus on an area of project management that’s often ignored – people-related issues. 

What’s the team dynamic? How motivated is everyone? How convinced are the troops on the ground about the project’s success? Which tasks need support? These are all important questions that are often ignored because project managers are preoccupied with the organization of projects. 

As PM tools continue to automate traditional project management functions, a project manager’s role will evolve into a more creative profile with a renewed focus on people skills. 

Myth #2 – The project lead should always be the most experienced person in the team

leadership-comes-in-many-forms

In many organizations, when a team is picked for a project, the senior-most member ends up becoming the de facto project lead. This might not work every time. Many projects fail because the project lead isn’t the right person for the role or doesn’t have enough time to focus on it.  

It’s implied that the senior-most member has the highest authority so making them the project lead makes sense. However, each project is unique and has a different set of requirements. Experience, seniority, or even domain expertise is not the most important trait for a good project lead. 

Instead, while picking a project lead; ask the following questions:

  • Do they have influence over the group?
  • Do they have the time to drive the project? Are there any conflicting priorities?
  • What’s their track record of managing projects?
  • Are they interested in the project?
  • Can they perform under pressure?

Project leads need to be passionate about the project’s goal. Only then they’ll take a personal interest in its success. If they lack the energy or are preoccupied with other priorities, their lackluster enthusiasm will rub on to their teammates. 

You need to ensure that project leaders are empowered to drive the project. Often they lack real authority and the project members continue to view them as figureheads who are bossing around just for the sake of it. You need to give real authority to project members so that they can take a call on not just the deadlines but also the team, and their performance. Their feedback after the completion of the project should be included in formal performance reviews. 

Myth #3 – Multiple people can be accountable for the same task

Most project management tools allow you to assign a task to multiple users. Each user would then receive all relevant notifications and reminders. While it is tempting to have multiple assignees, it is almost always counter-productive. 

RACI matrix is one of the most well-known models to describe various roles in the completion of a task – Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. It says that there must be only one person accountable for a task. This principle is further stressed in Apple’s DRI model.  

Why only one accountable person? Because this makes it crystal clear who’s in charge of seeing the tasks through. It reduces ambiguity and the tendency to pass the buck when things go wrong. 

This doesn’t mean that only one person should work on one task. That’s why in the RACI matrix, responsible and accountable are two different roles. Many people can be responsible for a task but there should be only one who is accountable. That’s why project management tools allow you to add multiple followers even when they restrict multiple assignees. 

Myth#4 – Stakeholders are always right

stakeholders-are-not-always-right

Every project has stakeholders. They can be internal management, clients, or customers. Their needs lay the foundation for the entire project. Stakeholders are people who are directly affected by the outcome of the project. We have excluded project members in our definition.

Since the premise of each project is to satisfy the stakeholders, it’s easy to assume that they are always right. However, once the project begins, project members gradually start amassing more knowledge of the problem. There might be occasions where preexisting conditions of the project might evolve.

For example, top leadership might have asked the project team to work on a highly requested feature. During the course of developing that feature, the team might realize the root problem can be solved in a more elegant way by refining an existing feature. The stakeholders might still insist on the original goal. 

Real-time and context-based communication is the key to handle such situations. Ensure that stakeholders are well-informed about the progress and new challenges that pop up. Be receptive to their feedback but also state your opinion if you disagree. Although stakeholders will have the last word, you should ensure their decision is based on a solid understanding of the prevailing conditions. 

Myth#5 – Agile methodology is only for IT teams

Agile methodology has become one of the most popular project management methodologies. It’s characterized by making products that customers want in short cycles that encourage iterative improvements.  The end result might not be the same as initially envisioned but would be better suited for the customer. Scrum is a form of agile methodology where each team is led by a scrum master that performs iterative cycles of work that last 2-3 weeks. It’s highly flexible, self-organizing and typically has daily stand-up meetings.

Agile methodology originated in software development teams but its principles are useful for all teams that work in a dynamic business environment. That’s why it is increasingly being used by non-IT teams to deliver high-quality results faster. 

Kanban based PM tools are ideal for teams that are trying to introduce agile methodology in their team. If some of your recent projects faced challenges due to a rapidly changing business environment or communication delays, Agile might just be the perfect project management methodology for your team. 

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