When managing a large project, there are many points at which you can go wrong, as I know from experience! Here are what I consider the six biggest mistakes in project management.
Not Setting Expectations
Different stakeholders often have different expectations for a project. It is critical to first understand what communications your sales team has had with the client to learn the client's requirements first-hand, since it is likely you are coming in late to the conversation. You also need to have a detailed dialog with the client in about what the project is to achieve and what your requirements are in terms of collaboration, support, training, etc. Whatever was promised by sales, you have to roll up your sleeves and make it happen.
Lastly, you need to set expectations clearly with all stakeholders within your company as well (for example, at Affinity Express the stakeholders are the new client implementation, production, IT and finance teams).
We had a situation a couple of years ago about using a design practice within the Affinity Express Service Bureau, which one of our workflow systems. The client asked and sales responded it was okay without realizing that this was actually not allowed in the system. Collectively, we should have addressed this request properly at the beginning. Now, we always make sure our sales team has up-to-date feature lists along with any known limitations. Plus, we have plenty of communication across teams to ensure we're all on the same page.
Not Getting Buy-in from Key Stakeholders
This is probably the biggest mistake you can make as a project manager. As a catalyst, you have to get different parts of the organization together and move them toward a common goal. Most often, a project is pushed through by one person or a few people. Yet, you have to convince everyone involved of the value—specific to each—to get them vested in the outcomes. Without that, it's almost impossible to secure the support you need to make the project a success.
I see this challenge come up especially when the sales team does not get buy-in from our IT and client solutions team. This group is a key stakeholder that has a lot of experience in recommending creative approaches, especially with regard to workflows and technical best practices. At Affinity Express, we address this issue by conducting a discovery for each client, during which time this team can ask key questions to help shape the client's process. With this information, we can then recommend a project that is tailored to the client.
Not Communicating Enough
A very common mistake is to get so involved in implementing that you communicate less than you should or assume everyone is on the same page with you. In my experience, it is almost impossible to over-communicate. People are busy; they don't pay attention; they forget—it's your job to ensure they get the information they need as often as they need it. As project manager, it is one of your most important responsibilities to make sure that everyone involved is constantly updated on what is happening, what their role is, the timeframes and the dependencies.
I often see this situation creep up on me when I am managing too many projects at the same time. I have less time to communicate, even though I try my best to be consistent. Thankfully, though, I have a high performing team and they rise to the occasion when needed.
Starting a Project Before You Have a Signed Contract
Almost every organization does this at least occasionally: after all, the contract can always get signed later. However, not having terms agreed upon in writing is a bad idea. You may end up with a disgruntled client or with lost profits. At the very least, you have nothing that details what each side requires to make the relationship successful, and misunderstandings can arise easily. The project manager has the opportunity to document and at least get sign-off on what you will do and need from the client side. That's some protection.
And yes, in the past Affinity Express moved forward a few times without finalizing statements of work because we wanted to accommodate a client's need for fast implementation. You want to build the relationship and the client wants results quickly, so you go against your policy and act. I had a project last year that started with no contract, and halfway into the implementation, the client just stopped. They claimed the project didn't fit into their business model. We lost some time and dollars due to this unprofessional client and had no recourse without a contract in place. That experience made us much more careful and, if we ever do go ahead without a contract now, it's only for an existing client with which we have a great relationship.
Not Organizing Projects So They Are Repeatable
Not every client or project is the same, but that doesn't mean that you can't set up certain processes that make you more efficient. You can develop standard communication matrices, workflows that can be customized, quality control documents or calendars that just need to be tweaked and so on. If everything is unique or custom, you will spend too much time learning and figuring out how to get things done each time, versus quickly adapting to the specific situation. Project managers are often process managers too (just don't tell anybody I said that).
At Affinity Express, when a salesperson intimates me about a new project, I simply email my new client implementation team, our S.P.E.E.D. team (the full name is Services and Products Engineered for Excellence and Development because this group is central to our client on-boarding and new product development processes), the IT department and the Finance team to get the ball rolling. From there, every separate area has their own set of checklists that they follow, complete and report on. It makes my job as project manager a lot easier and adds efficiencies to the project.
Not Using a Project Management Tool
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. Having a tool is really helpful to keep projects on track, update stakeholders and manage multiple projects at the same time.
At Affinity Express, we have anywhere from five to 20 projects running at the same time for new clients or new projects with existing clients. As you can imagine, this can be quite a challenge. We currently use a scheduling tool to track milestones, tasks, dependencies and resources, but the tool doesn't make the sharing of information very easy. We are currently evaluating a tool that is web-based, can be accessed with smart phones and will be available to all people in our organization. I think this tool will be critical to our future successes and capabilities as a project team. What are the biggest project management mistakes you have ever seen?