Three Ways to Steer Your Project through Troubled Waters


Project managers often face an uphill battle when it comes to leading the team and getting a project completed on time, on budget and within scope. Communication issues, personal bias, and the desire to "fix it all" can invade a team, stopping a project in its tracks before anyone realizes there is an issue. Part of the project manager's job is to be prepared for such problems, provide a roadmap through mid-effort wildernesses, and present tools for more efficient work. In this guest post, let's have look at challenges faced in managing projects and how to tackle those.

1. Dealing with Communication Issues

Even a small project can fall prey to misunderstandings, but enterprise-wide initiatives are known for problems associated with keeping everyone on the same page. Often, project teams deal with this issue by filling email inboxes with long strings of text. Everyone is copied on every correspondence to ensure communication is happening, but the reality is that no one reads the emails. The analyst does not have time to keep up with a real-time exchange about the due date for one manager's piece of the project, and that manager probably does not want to see all the nitty-gritty details between the analyst and project manager about sample size.

One way to address communication issues without wasting everyone's time with extraneous emails is to use a cloud computing solution. Systems like Syntax allow data to be housed, maintained and shared worldwide. Team members can make changes on the cloud or view information that is pertinent to them. Instead of forcing everyone to keep up with each detail, staff can be trusted to inform themselves. This moves responsibility for communication to the entire team and reduces stress on the project manager. Other benefits of cloud data solutions include redundant backup and disaster recovery, creating a safer vessel for long-term team work.

2. Reducing Personal Bias

No matter what problem the project is seeking to address, when you call a team, you also call personal bias. A representative from sales is going to clash with a representative from accounting, for example. Their ingrained goals and responsibilities are completely different and they will bring those thought processes to the project. It is essential for a project manager to address this problem at the beginning. Creating a clear definition of the project, including the problem statement and what is in and out of scope, is a way to do this. If the team understands their mission and scope, it is easier to reduce negative bias. It is important to allow people to share their experience, opinion and knowledge, but a project manager should always be ready to remind the team of the purpose for their efforts.

3. Keeping the Project in Scope

Even if the project manager constantly harps on scope, there is a tendency for team members to slide off the planned path. Sometimes this has benefits, as it is possible to realize part way through a project that the team is trying to solve the wrong problem. This decision should come with the support of executive leadership, however, since it could involve scrapping expensive efforts in favor of a new direction.

In the absence of new instructions from leadership, the project manager needs to keep the vehicle pointed in the right direction. Some tips for reducing scope creep are included below.

" Allow a free discussion period for ten minutes at the beginning of a project meeting. Put out a timer and make sure everyone knows the ding means the conversation is at an end and it is time to get to business. This can allow the team to vent about certain areas that may otherwise pop up during the meeting.

" Create a process map identifying all areas associated with the problem, solution or product. Code the map with green, yellow and red. Green areas are where the project team is allowed to make changes. Yellow areas are okay for discussion, but changes are not likely. Red areas are off limits. This can keep the team from veering off in a useless direction to begin with.

" Include the team in project definitions. When they help to draw the barriers for scope, they will be more likely to respect them.

Projects involve people, estimates about the future, and change. As such, there is almost a guarantee that something will go against the plan. A project manager must remain calm, use all tools available and constantly remind the team of project definitions and scope. A well-defined project and strong communication tools are the best way to ensure the most seamless effort possible.

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Guest post by - Jessie May Hughes