Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Today’s article is the first article of a series. This series contains two parts – this article and the next one. This series will present the subject of the five mistakes which we have to make in order to become a project management guru, and this article presents the first two of them.
“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” – Niels Bohr
A person with rich project management experience means that he/she would have a wealth of theoretical knowledge and have mastered a bunch of management tools/practices. It also means that he/she would have made or seen sufficient mistakes in real life. Only in this way, this expert can avoid essential risks and develop reasonable response strategies in the follow-up work. This article and the next one have investigated the common mistakes which we would have to make in order to become a project management guru and generalize these mistakes into five categories. And today’s article presents the first two categories of them.
1 Unclear project objectives
Many project managers have encountered the situation that at the end of a project the sponsor did not approve the project’s deliverables or did not consider the project brought the expected benefits, even though the project had been finished almost perfectly.
The root cause of this problem is that the project’s success criteria/objectives had not been correctly defined at the initiating stage of the project.
The success of a project does not only mean the success of project management. The success criteria of a project contain three levels of success:
1. The project deliverables have been delivered and have achieved the right quality, which means it is successful at the level of project management.
2. The project has brought the expected benefits and gained the approval of the project sponsor.
3. The project has accelerated the achievement of strategic objectives of the organization and the organization has recognized this achievement.
To the project sponsor or the organization, a project is only a measure of achieving its objective, but not the objective itself. Therefore, not only should the project manager focus on the specific requirement objectives of the project, but also should think of the true value goals and political objective of the project, and, furthermore, the methods used for achieving the relevant objectives in the project.
In terms of the issue of unclear project objectives, the first step of the solution would be to develop a decent business case and avoid managing the project only by following our intuition. The second step is to plan a well-established operational plan, and monitor the execution of the operational plan, which is to avoid the situation of “no one is in charge of the maintenance of the product”. Meanwhile, the project manager should always keep in touch with the project sponsor in both formal and informal ways. The background and the reason why the sponsor initiates the project should be recognized, and the true expectation of the sponsor should be excavated.
2 Improper project governance
In a sentence, project governance is the management of project management. Both project governance and project management are for accelerating the achievement of project objectives. The difference between them is that project governance is about the key processes such as defining the project’s organizational structure, clarifying roles and responsibilities, defining the synchronism of project progress and status, stage-gate evaluation, change control procedure, and risk-issue reporting steps. All these processes together provide a certain institutional framework for project management. And project management is about the application of relevant knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities under the institutional framework of project governance.
Some common representations of improper project governance are:
1. The roles and responsibilities of project management are ambiguous and unclear. For example, multiple people are in charge of managing the same project work which leads to slow progress of the work.
2. The process of management work is unclear, the project team members hard to find the corresponding person in charge to make the relevant decisions, which leads to the suspension of the work progress.
3. The steps and processes of reporting risk/issue are unclear, which causes the project manager to have to handle all issues all by himself, which leads to a bottleneck of the project manager’s work progress.
In terms of the issue of improper project governance, we should pay attention to the following:
1. Project governance should be performed as early as possible. A project manager should clarify the requirement of governance at the early stage of the project, including clarification of persons responsible for corresponding project works and work processes. In this way, the project team members would be easy to adapt to and recognize the project management regulations. Otherwise, if the project governance regulations were presented to the team member only when there was some issue happen, then team members would probably resist the regulation because they would feel like being addressed to.
2. Project governance should have operability. Every project has its uniqueness. Before performing project governance activities, the project manager should follow the proper project management regulations, and do not apply the regulations mechanically. If certain governance activities were beneficial for the achievement of project objectives, then the governance framework can be tailored accordingly. Sometimes, the organizational revolution of project management regulations can be driven if necessary.
3. Principle of “single ultimate responsible person for single project work” can be applied here. That says, every work package should have one but only one responsible person for the corresponding end result. This person should be the one who is directly making progress of the work.
4. The project governance, organizational governance, and stakeholder management should be separated. Do not include someone in the decision matrix just because he/she is the leader of some team members or he/she is one of the initiators of some business requirements. Because in that way the project decision process would become tedious and long.
In summary, this article presents two of five mistakes someone has to make in order to become a guru in project management. The first one is unclear project objectives and the other one is about improper project governance. The rest three mistakes will be presented and discussed in the next second article of this series.