Some common project management problems require nothing more than an implementation of some best practices found by conducting a simple Google search. Others require deep thought and strategy development for a more unique, tailored solution. Regardless, everyone wants to be a part of the team that gets results and makes their business or their customer’s business run better.
But even programs that seem successful on the outside may have missed out on the real problem or spent a great deal of resources on a scope that should’ve been half the size. These are common project management missteps driven by the need to get results, and they can be avoided by listening for what’s really going on. The urge to jump right into solution offering is common, but the key to better project results is better understanding the problems.
3 Steps to Enhance Your Project Management Process
Step 1. Identify the Actual Problem
Imagine a scenario where a purchasing team is asked to find a new supplier for a widget. This purchasing team is familiar with the current supplier and isn’t pleased with its latest price increases. Eager to succeed, the team gets right to work outlining what needs to be done to source a new supplier. Deadlines are scheduled, tasks are assigned, terms are negotiated, and in two months a new supplier is on-boarded, capturing significant cost savings.
Did the purchasing team solve the problem at hand? Did they identify and understand it? A common misstep when launching a project is for a team to dive into what they think will provide the most benefit, regardless of what may benefit their company or their customer the most, long term. What the purchasing team identified as the problem – in this case rising costs – may have been a signal of something deeper, like high scrap rates due to improper material selection.
Project managers can combat this by understanding what they’re being asked to do and to ensure they look through the lens of the customer or their company instead of their own. As David H. Maister writes in The Trusted Adviser, “listen for what’s different, not what’s familiar”.
Step 2. Listen for the Scope
Another way project managers could produce greater success in their programs is by taking the time to comprehend the scope of a given project in its early stages. It’s also important, in the beginning, to not assume that the needs of the customer or company are completely understood based on a mere conversation or two. Remember, nobody’s asked by a program to know the answer; they are invited to find it.
Imagine a services firm that specializes in sourcing plastic widgets. A customer recognizes a need to onshore three widgets and requests help from said services firm. The project manager appointed by the services firm, understanding his or her firm’s role as the plastics expert, develops a project timeline based on the traditional amount of time it takes his or her firm to source three plastic widgets.
Unless the widgets are extremely simple, this probably isn’t the necessary scope for the project. Much like problem identification, scope development requires a commitment to listening for details to fully understand what’s going on and what the project requires. To stop at the assumption of “I know how to source plastic widgets” and base the program on a familiar plan for a 10-week project is a good way to realize that, in week eight, the program actually needs 15 weeks.
Step 3. Understand Project/Customer Needs
It’s important to note that the real problem or proper scope aren’t always apparent, because, if they are, there wouldn’t be much of a demand for problem solvers. While the actual problem a company or customer seeks to solve sometimes feels like it was right under your nose, uncovering it is the result of a commitment to questioning all stakeholders in pursuit of every detail that might aid in the project’s efforts and its long-term prosperity.
Every professional wants to successfully navigate our complicated business world and make things better through each project he or she works on, but without a commitment to listening for the real problem, a lot of great work gets done for all the wrong reasons. Taking the three steps mentioned above to avoid common project management mistakes will not only improve the performance results of your program, but it’ll improve your team’s communication and problem solving techniques too.