10 Common Mistakes That Young or Inexperienced Project Managers Make – Mistake 4

10 Common Mistakes That Young or Inexperienced Project Managers Make – Mistake 4

Over-reliance on Repeatable Processes

Companies may spend years creating an enterprise project management (EPM) methodology. The intent is that the methodology will be used on all projects for all customers and from cradle to grave. While the intent has merit, EPM methodologies do not account for every possible problem that can exist on every project. Having blind faith in the expectation that repeatable processes will solve your problems is a mistake. Repeatable processes appear in the form of guidelines, forms, templates and checklists. Repeatable processes are NOT a replacement or substitute for management attention, effective decision-making, or problem-solving. They are simply tools for the PM to use, and as we all know, projects are managed by people rather than tools. Today there are many options to deliver strategic projects using different methods such as agile.

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10 Common Mistakes That Young or Inexperienced Project Managers Make – Mistake 3

10 Common Mistakes That Young or Inexperienced Project Managers Make – Mistake 3

Preparing an Overly Ambitious Schedule

The more inexperienced the project manager, the more optimistic he or she becomes when preparing the schedule baseline. While ambitious schedules are nice to have, they are often unrealistic and can make matters worse. Customers are never told that the schedule is ambitious and therefore believe the schedule is realistic. The customers then focus on the milestone dates and now, when the milestones slip from ambitious to reality, you have an unhappy customer who wonders what other surprises will show up next.

Another factor to consider is the impact on the functional estimates. Ambitious schedules may require team members to perform at a higher position on the learning curve thus changing the functional standards. Functional managers may not want their estimates and standards to be changes. Also, ambitious schedules may require the company’s best functional workers to be assigned to the project and this may be unrealistic. Doing this also takes valuable resources from finishing a project on time and becoming available to another project due to poor time estimations.

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10 Common Mistakes That Young or Inexperienced Project Managers Make – Mistake 2

10 Common Mistakes That Young or Inexperienced Project Managers Make – Mistake 2

Pretending to Know More than You Actually Do

For the most part, project managers today possess an understanding of technology rather than a command of technology yet persist in trying to make technical decisions on the project. This usually infuriates line managers to the show him who’s boss.

The size and complexity of today’s projects should make it clear to project managers that they must rely heavily upon the assigned subject matter experts and functional leads for technical direction and support. On some projects, such as in R&D, project manager assignments may be dictated by a requirement for a command of technology rather than just an understanding, but this is an exception rather than the rule. Good project managers know their limitations and never try to dictate a solution without first consulting with the true experts. Know your limits and let the experts do what they do best.

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10 Common Mistakes That Young or Inexperienced Project Managers Make – Mistake 1

10 Common Mistakes That Young or Inexperienced Project Managers Make – Mistake 1

Too Much Detail

Inexperienced project managers tend to become enamored with work breakdown structures (WBS). One newly appointed project manager asked me to review his WBS for an IT project. The thirty-day project had 340 work packages and some of the work packages were broken down into minutes rather than hours or days.

While the project manager was proud of his accomplishment in the creation of a “micro-level” WBS, he neglected to consider the amount of time and effort required by the team to manage at that level of detail. The cost involved to establish possibly 340 charge numbers and track them accordingly could easily increase the management support cost of the project by fifty percent or more.

Project managers must establish an appropriate WBS level from which to manage. Creating a highly detailed WBS is an invitation to micromanage a project, thus alienating functional managers. Most project managers today do not possess the technical expertise to create such a detailed WBS without functional assistance. Just picture yourself attending the kickoff meeting for a thirty-day project and being handed a WBS with 340 work packages.

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The Four Things I Wish I’d Known – Part 4

The Four Things I Wish I’d Known – Part 4

Innovation Isn’t Mysterious

I was so excited – I could not believe that one of my professional students had agreed to show me around his workplace. You see, he was part of a skunkworks operation for a well-known technology company. I was giddy with anticipation.  What would I see? This was going to be so cool!  I’d long been fascinated with, but intimidated by, the topic of innovation. It seemed so mysterious and confusing.  How, exactly, does it work? 

Imagine my disappointment when he greeted me in the lobby of a very boring suburban office building, took me through minimal (and very typical) sign-in at security (I was expecting a full body scan and intense interrogation), and then escorted me to his workspace – a beige cubicle in the middle of a cubicle farm.  What?! I was expecting brilliant colors, yoga balls, trampolines, solid walls of whiteboards covered in cool ideas, excited voices and maybe even some rock music. 

I looked around the silent office, everyone heads down in their own cubicles. I studied every piece of paper pinned to his cubicle wall, every book on his desk.  I even asked him to show me something he was working on and he pulled up a technical drawing.  He obviously thought I was being ridiculous to have been so excited to come and see such dull, normal-looking work.  I finally admitted that I expected something so much more exciting where ideas are being thrown about, energy is vibrant, and somehow a break-through idea is born!  I expressed my disappointment. And he explained that this is not how innovation typically works in real life.  

I’ve since studied much on this topic and innovation really boils down to some simple concepts that I wish I’d known all along. It’s “easy” to innovate if you know what it means. 

There two main categories of innovation:

Incremental Innovation – My student was working on incremental innovation, which simply means to take something that exists and make it better. We see it every day via incremental improvements in products or services.  The introduction of a new version of software to align to every-changing user needs would be an example of incremental innovation (sometimes this type of innovation is also called “sustaining innovation”).  In the government sector, an example of incremental innovation is automating services such as driver’s license renewals or Social Security applications using the Web – to use new technology to deliver mandated services more efficiently and effectively.

Disruptive Innovation – This is what I had associated the mysteries of a skunkworks operation. The truth is, all innovations are incremental: one idea combined with another idea to create something better. The term disruptive innovation applies when the resultant idea ends up disrupting the way things are done in an industry or changes consumer behavior. 

A well-known example of disruptive innovation is Uber. Uber used incremental innovation to solve a problem. Taxis are not always available when one needs a ride – especially in smaller or dispersed metro areas. People and organizations in those areas do have cars for hire (the first Uber drivers were actually taxi drivers), so that left one strategic problem to solve: how to connect the rider with the driver — how to “hail a ride” remotely. Smart phones, it turned out, were the key. Uber was born by creating an app that connects drivers with people who need rides.  Initially, it was simply incremental innovation – combining existing things in new ways. Why is Uber’s innovation now considered disruptive? Because Uber has disrupted the taxi industry by changing consumer behavior. 

Incremental innovation is a much more “manageable” process, and many large corporations, such as the skunkworks I toured, excel at it. And sometimes this process results in disruptive innovation which can become messy, unpredictable, and may even create conflicts within an organization as the breakthrough disrupts entrenched interests and ways of doing things.  This is when things get exciting.  But sadly, not in the way I had envisioned. Innovation is not so  mysterious after all.

Read Part 3 of The Four Things I Wish I’d Known here.

The Four Things I Wish I’d Known – Part 3

The Four Things I Wish I’d Known – Part 3

KPIs Are Essential (But Know Your Audience)

I wanted to sink into the conference room floor. I was so embarrassed and was convinced that I must have just asked the stupidest question in the world. To this day, I cringe at the memory of standing there, in front of the entire leadership team at a prestigious, world-renowned, non-profit organization, while the entire team stared blankly at me. I was well into the second decade of my consulting career and was accustomed to taking on major projects. This time, I’d been asked to design a dashboard of metrics for this organization.  I’d gathered the heads of all functions and departments to explain the purpose of the project, their roles as stakeholders, and then, poised to write responses on the whiteboard, I asked the question: “Can each of you tell me what three to six key metrics you use (or would like to us) to manage your part of the organization?” My thinking was that this would give us a quick and rough outline of what metrics mattered most to the people who ran the organization – these same people who were now staring at me. Finally, one gentleman spoke up and said, “I believe this is what we hired you to do – don’t you know what metrics we should use?”  

Fast forward another decade and I have a lot more KPI experience under my belt and I’ve worked with dozens of major organizations on performance management as well as implemented KPIs for my own use in managing an organization. And in hindsight, I now realize that the managers who were staring at me should have known their key processes and value drivers and been able to articulate what they were trying to accomplish and how to measure it.

I have since learned that there are two kinds of managers/leaders. Those who operate at a tactical level and those who see the full picture. The tactical managers keep very busy managing what Covey calls the whirlwind of daily operations. Some focus only on the day-to-day actions that are required of them.  Some are great at people skills. Some are more entrepreneurial and implement innovations, initiatives, and projects they feel are needed as they sense and respond to risks and signals at the tactical level. But after all these years, I see how these sorts of managers consistently fail to achieve meaningful long-term results. They perform well on daily operations, but few can achieve sustainable improvements in those operations.  And that is exactly what happened to every one of the managers in that conference room. They did their daily jobs well, but they couldn’t produce long-term results for the organization.  Within five years, all were replaced.

The other type of managers/leaders see the full picture of key processes and value drivers and they leverage KPIs to monitor and manage performance. They know KPIs (metrics) will enable them to better manage overall performance as well as to assess the impact of any innovations, initiatives, and projects. 
I’ve since learned that I didn’t ask a stupid question. I simply was asking it of the wrong sort of manager/leaders. I’ve asked that same question of the other type of managers and they rattle off metrics faster than I can write them down.  

I have learned to assess the audience first and be sensitive to the fact that not everyone knows about KPIs or how they enable managers with insights and power for improving performance. Some individuals may need some basic education about the topic, they may have a long change management journey to buy into the value and use of KPIs, and they most likely will need coaching help to figure out their key processes and value drivers, as well as how to determine appropriate KPIs to use.  

It’s not rocket science. To some of us, it is simply common sense. But not everyone is wired this way.  We are all born with different natural tendencies so I’ve tried to learn to keep that in mind. And I no longer sink into the floor when someone stares blankly at me. I simply start asking more questions until we find common ground and then work forward from there.  

Read Part 2 of The Four Things I Wish I’d Known here. Read Part 4 here

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