We’ve been sharing a lot of content recently about our partnership with Kepner-Tregoe to deliver project management training. It’s caused some of our team to reflect on their own learnings on how to effectively manage projects, many of which were learned the hard way!
So, we asked our team the following question:
What's the biggest mistake you've ever made while managing a project? What went wrong, why did it go wrong, and what did you learn from the experience?
Where do I start??? Over the years I have made many mistakes whilst managing projects. Below are the three that have had the greatest impact on me personally:
Managing a project from my office chair - I used to think I was 'too busy' to get out and manage a project in the field and relied on the installation team to just make it happen. You need to get down on the job, actively manage and see the progress for yourself. Not only are you able to understand first-hand where everything is up to, you are also able to build a great relationship with the entire project team.
Poor planning - The planning phase is arguably the most important in the project management process. on reflection there were times where I jumped the gun transitioning from the planning to the implementation phase, whether that was from inadequate detail, lack of understanding or operational pressures it doesn't really matter. My old Engineering Manager used the phrase 'Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance' and that message has really stuck with me.
Ineffective communication - I can recall a number of times where project stakeholders have asked 'where are you up to with this project?' If you are being asked this question then I think it is worth revisiting your progress update and communication methods. Are these stakeholders not on the distribution list? Am I not clearly communicating progress in the regular updates? Is my progress report template easy to read and follow?
It is inevitable that people are going to make mistakes when managing projects. The key is making sure you learn from the mistakes and ensuring it doesn't happen again. I am a massive advocate for conducting Post Implementation Reviews (PIRs), which documents the lessons learnt (what didn't work well and what worked well).
Not spending the time required to do the "what if" to understand what could go wrong and develop actions to mitigate risk. I made this mistake just recently by assuming power poles permits would have been requested by the pole supplier (3rd party). Instead the 3rd party vendor decided to deliver poles to this site without permits. This caused delays to our project because the permits had to be processed through the local council. In hindsight I sound have stuck my nose in there to make sure.
When you are assigned as PM to a project that has already begun and is heading south before your arrival. Make sure you go back and spend the time to do the project definition and planning phases even though the project has started and gather anything that doesn't look right e.g. budget to small, not enough time allowed. Armed with this information you will be able to early warn the client and offer/agree on possible ways to rectify.
When things went pear shaped for me, the two things that stood out after some reflection was communication and getting bogged down in the detail.
Most of the issues I had were teams not interfacing properly and when I look back on it, the root cause was not facilitating the communication channels more effectively. Never underestimate the power of physically (well not so much with the current world situation, but technology like Zoom and MS Teams really helps) getting people in the same room to regularly to discuss the project progress, issues and look ahead. Doing this just removes a lot of the tension and argy-bargy that comes with delivering a project.
The other issue I had was getting too bogged down in the detail. I'm the type of person who wants to know how every little cog turns and how things are executed. I burnt some time in the planning stage of a project, but luckily I recovered that time which is really hard to do. I learnt that I needed to take a step back to focus on facilitating the teams and putting trust in the subject matter experts to do their thing. Leaving the details to the SMEs can also scratch my curiosity itch, because they can explain a concept in 30-seconds instead of me interpreting a drawing for 20 mins and doing some googling.
One other related mistake I learnt from is ensuring you are always working to the latest revisions of drawings and ensuring your doc control practices are watertight. The communication issue from one design vendor let me down and in that instance and another contributing factor was I wasn't paying the detailed attention required when managing transmittal.
That last one cost me a few on-site fines, in the universal currency known as a carton.
I also agree with Josh, the project close out is crucial in ensuring the project outcomes were achieved and fleshing out any lessons learnt that you can bring onto your next job. You'll find that ISO 9001 has a section titled "Continual Improvement"