The Titanic was said to be unsinkable. We know what happened.
Many projects seem just as solid at the outset, buoyed by the optimism that naturally comes with new things. But there are a myriad of obstacles that can quickly turn a project into a disaster.
While there's no surefire way to eliminate all of the potential challenges that may arise, being aware of them and making good preparations in advance can make them much easier to manage.
Having a project without clear goals will just confuse and frustrate people. It's like asking them to shoot an arrow blindfolded with no idea where the target is. After all, if you don't know what your intended destination is, how will know when you arrive?
A good project goal should be short and simple—you should be able to fit it into a tweet (140 characters).
All too often, project plans don't provide sufficient detail to ensure success. Not only can this be confusing to team members, but it can lead to inaccurate time and cost estimates.
The solution to this is to break down each segment of the project into more detailed tasks and sub-tasks. These should be tasks that can be completed in no more than a day or two in most cases. For larger, more complex projects they should take no longer than five working days.
Every project suffers some degree of changes in scope. It's inevitable, because unforeseen issues will arise that demand some change. The key is to not let them derail the entire project.
A good manager must carefully consider requests for change in scope. If the scope of the project is expanded, make sure to expand the budget and deadlines accordingly. Otherwise, the project and team members will become too strained to accomplish everything on time.
Make sure the right people are working on the project. They need to have the experience, skills, and knowledge needed to complete the tasks assigned to them. A careful, honest evaluation should be done by the project manager prior to the start of the job. Sometimes some training or mentoring can fill the gap. Other times it may be necessary to outsource some of the work involved.
It's critical that each person on the team is clear on his or her roles and is accountable for their completion. A lack of accountability can lead to a total project breakdown, particularly where there are task dependencies.
You'll want to make sure that any project is translated to actionable items assigned to team members. You can use tools like Trello to make sure responsibilities are clear.
Having consistent templates, tools, and procedures make projects easier to manage and run more efficiently. While each project may change in size, scope, and team members, the process is often the same, or very similar.
Diagram the work flow using a flowchart. Create it from the perspective of the job, not the individual doing the work. That way, new team members or outsourced contractors can quickly understand their role and how it fits into the overall project structure.
Project managers need to keep lines of communication open with team members at all times. This needs to be a two-way street. Set this up as part of the project process, so that there is regular communication. Knowing about any possible delays or issues early can help you avoid more serious problems down the road.
Sometimes, a short deadline for a high-profile client with an important project can get a team focused and energized. But successful project managers know that setting unrealistic deadlines on an ongoing basis is a recipe for disaster. It will kill morale and lead to late deliveries, making for unhappy customers.
Sometimes a project is planned out in detail, everyone is on board, and things are running smoothly. Then an unforeseen occurrence happens and the project skids off the rails. Why? Failure to manage for risks. A good project manager must not only plan but also prepare for contingencies. Constantly ask "what if?" questions - both of yourself and of your team members.
Often, this is a byproduct of projects that don't mesh with the organization's strategic plan. Those that do are far more likely to receive management's support for resource and budget requests.
It's also critical for the project manager to communicate clearly and consistently with all stakeholders—team members, vendors, contractors, management, and the client—throughout the life of the project. Encourage feedback, as well. Keeping all parties engaged in the process will lead to less stress and a more positive project experience.