In the outsourcing space, it is important to be flexible when responding to shifting priorities and the diverse needs of clients. Each client has unique needs, expectations and cultures; therefore, it is important to quickly align to those needs and understand the most effective way to service the client.
When starting a project or new initiative, it is very easy to jump right in and try to execute against a client’s needs without properly planning. This article is Part I of a series on project management tips and how to recognize and potentially avoid project management pitfalls.
Start by first understanding the difference between a task and a project:
- A task is a single unit of work – an action to accomplish in a project, a single step in a multi-step project. A task is accomplished by a set deadline and contributes toward work-related objectives.
- A project is a temporary endeavor with a defined beginning and end date. A project is undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. Projects are unique in that they are not routine operations, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. Project management is the coordination of individual tasks; a task can be broken down further into subtasks and should also have clear start and end dates for completion.
Project management processes fall into five process groups:
- Monitoring and Controlling
Initiation is understanding and documenting the need for a project, setting clear objectives and scoping out the overall desired outcomes for the product or service. During initiation, it is essential to develop a Project Charter. The Charter authorizes the existence of the project and empowers the project manager to align resources with the project activities. The Charter also aligns stakeholders’ expectations with the project’s purpose. In the outsourcing space, Statements of Work (SOWs) and Change Requests (CRs) are often client contractual documents that provide details to incorporate in the Charter.
Common initiation process pitfalls:
- No sponsorship or senior management support: Without senior management alignment and support, the project could experience a lack of resources, funding and organizational commitment.
- Lack of clear objectives: A lack of objectives leads to unclear communication and expectations regarding the project’s scope further creating unclear direction and low resource commitment.
Planning is the foundation for projects. The planning phase should not be rushed, but carefully thought through, documented and confirmed. Planning involves validating the scope of work, to include: requirements, deliverables, assumptions, risks, constraints and timelines.
- Scope and requirements gathering allow you to gather your project’s specific needs and ensure you are positioned to deliver what the client expects. Requirements dictate deliverables.
- A project plan is the roadmap that allows you to define activities and sequence events by outlining your project’s schedule with key tasks, milestones and timelines for completing them. The project plan also allows you to estimate activity durations and identify resources that will be responsible for completing activities. The project plan helps you track your progress and creates accountabilities.
Common planning process pitfalls:
- Poor planning: A poorly planned project results in having no control over what needs to be done, who will do it, and what work is pending or forthcoming. Poor planning results in chaos!
- No clear progress of milestones: You cannot manage a project when you do not know what you need to do or when tasks are off track and risks and issues are undocumented. Documenting and managing project milestones allows you to create a clear and attainable project plan, while enabling you to track and monitor your progress.
- Lack of detailed scope and requirements gathering: Without scope definition and requirements gathering, you may discover that essential elements of the project have been missed much later in the project, resulting in a loss of time and productivity and the risk of the project going over budget. The project’s timeline may also be put at risk.
- Scope creep and lack of change control: Beware of Scope Creep! Early in the planning phase, a Change Request (CR) or Process Scope Control (PSC) process should be outlined and communicated to all stakeholders. In addition, a governance process should be outlined, including how escalations and changes will be managed, an established turnaround time, and who will be authorized to provide approvals.
- Unrealistic timelines: Agreeing to unrealistic timelines will result in missed deliverables and/or poor quality products or service delivery. If timelines are accelerated, you may need to use schedule compression techniques, such as fast tracking, which includes reviewing the critical path to find out which sequential activities can be performed parallel or partially parallel to each other. Another schedule compression technique is crashing, which includes adding additional resources to the project to compress the schedule.
- Unrealistic resource levels: Projects with poor resource planning are bound to fail and could result in unrealistic timelines and task durations, lack of subject matter expertise, as well as burnout and frustration amongst existing project resources. It is important to plan for resources early in the project and set role/responsibility expectations to ensure you obtain commitments from the actual resources, their managers and senior leadership.
- Poor communications: Ongoing communication is critical and one of the most important iterative processes in project management. Many projects fail due to poor communication. Change Management and Communication Planning are important to any project and start with understanding all stakeholders, their roles, and the assessed impact of the project (whether positive or negative). Project managers should ensure information is communicated timely and effectively. There should also be a cadence in place for weekly/ongoing project updates amongst the project team, as well as updates and feedback from key stakeholders and project sponsors.
Upcoming articles will address tips and common pitfalls for other project phases, such as: Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing projects.
- A Guide To The Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). 5th ed. Project Management Institute, 2013. Print.
- “Avoiding Project Management Pitfalls.” Dummies. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.
- “Project+management+images – Google Search.” Project+management+images – Google Search. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2017.