What Not to Do in Project Management

March 14, 2013
Start simple with process and project management

This week JD shared some wisdom regarding process and how it can help guide your project to success. I wanted to follow up and share some points to help you get started in establishing some processes.

Establishing process is often the result of frustration from your team and the client...or a history of multiple clients. This frustration can lead to some hasty actions that prove detrimental to both the project down the road and to the morale of the team. Process is your guide, but it's not the full solution.

When over a barrel, think cascade, not waterfall

I come from the traditional waterfall school of project management: you follow a process, you have swimlanes, you assign resources and you leverage budget and time.

Imagine my surprise when I entered an “iterative shop” when it was anything but. Working in tech, I appreciate the iterative process. You build and go. Approve then build. You run your sprints with an end goal in mind and voila! Finished product.

While I definitely appreciate the speed of agile project management, this was clearly a case of scope creep. “Iterative’ in name alone does nothing for you when you have poorly defined requirements. Couple this with a less than attentive project team and executive sponsor and you are headed for a path to disaster, disappointment and missed deadlines.

Start with simple

Start simple and use an outline to define key components of your process. By laying out what those major components are, you are able to clearly identify strengths and, more importantly, those gaps that may come back to bite you.

Next, get stakeholder buy-in when you are establishing the process. You know what you would like to happen, now get it down on paper. Refine it so it is easy to understand and present it to your team. By presenting a process outline, your team will feel both informed and become true stakeholders. You need them to collaborate on some gaps and maybe identify some process improvements as you are building your own processes.

Know that you can’t go off alone into a corner to define and build your process. You need collaboration and insight from your team and the resources that are actually going to execute on those requirements.

Turn off the firehose

Coming into a Fortune 500 tech company and an iterative project management shop, I was specifically told I was hired because of my strong project management skills. This team was floundering, development was floundering and they needed guidance. So what did I do? I completely overwhelmed them.

First I started with old school tools of the trade. Armed with Microsoft Project and Visio I created some of the most elegant waterfalls and process maps depicting the processes that our team would be following. I didn’t stop at high level, I love detail. So for every high level process, there were 4-6 supporting processes in need of some of my Visio handiwork.

I had interviewed individual team members and taken copious note that had informed my efforts. I had all of the bases covered, except I never brought the team together until I was ready to display my very own "finished product".

The big reveal

Do you know how to read a crowd? Do you know how to read people in a meeting? Call it insight coupled with experience, but I was only into my 4th slide when I lost them. Eyes glazed over. Speed readers were already through the 25 page slide deck I had handed out just minutes before. Yes, I actually handed out a printed slide deck — talk about old school!

The result? Not exactly what I expected. My takeaway? Start progressively. Take what the team knows and take what you know and agree to some goals. Agree to high-level processes that support those goals and then commit to exploring some potential improvements and opportunities.

Your next deliverable

Some may disagree, but most projects are comprised of waterfall, agile, and lean methodologies. The combination gives a fast follow to the tasks and goals at hand. When you're starting out your process review and implementation, start high, then collaborate with the team for the detail that supports it.

With this insight, you are able to truly gain team buy-in and goal alignment. Both your team and your client will appreciate and enjoy the results that follow.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on process, flexibility and deliverables. Share your experiences and we looking forward to helping you along the way.

[Image: siddhu2020