So, you’ve either formally trained to enter the glorious world of project management, or perhaps you’ve had the mantle of project management thrust upon you. One day you’re happily plugging away at your job, answering emails, chatting with colleagues about things like the best cities to head out on a weekend break, where to find the best party bus rates, the pros and cons of a frugal wedding, and so on — and then all of a sudden, everyone (including your boss) is looking at you to lead an important project; or possibly a few of them. Is this fair? Not really. Does this happen frequently? Yes. Will you rise to the occasion and become a project manager rock star? Absolutely!
Well, OK: I can’t guarantee that you’ll thrive. But I can certainly help you steer clear of some of the biggest pitfalls that ensnare new project managers; and indeed, plenty of experienced ones as well. Here are three big mistakes in particular to avoid:
- Not managing expectations.
You will quickly learn (like possibly within the next few hours) that an excessive, if not ridiculous, amount of project management success or failure is not based on actual facts: it is based on perceptions. That is, if your customers, sponsors, and other stakeholders expect one thing and your project delivers another, then even if you win — you lose. The way to avoid this pain and suffering is to consistently focus on managing expectations. You need everyone in the ecosystem to be on the same page. It’s easier said than done, but it’s worth the time and effort.
- Getting devoured by scope creep.
It’s like the project management world’s version of a horror story: little by little, a monster known as “Scope Creep” starts to invade projects and devour whatever is in its path. Before long, the project disintegrates, and your chain of bosses (because there’s never just one, right?) freak out and use you for target practice. Your mission? Stop scope creep from getting it slimy tentacles into your project. How? Be vigilant — if not obsessive — about sticking to the official project plan and schedule, and knowing the difference between meeting all business objectives (which is what you’re supposed to do) vs. gold plating by adding and allowing extras (which you aren’t supposed to do). Documenting everything, right down to the last email or text message, is also advised. If scope creep does invade your project, at the very least you want evidence to show that you did everything you could to avoid the gore and destruction.
- Being intimidated by more experienced colleagues.
I’ve saved what is probably the most daunting challenge for last: regardless of your age, the fact that you’re new to project management means that some people on your team will try and test boundaries. For example, they may deliberately show up late to a team meeting, openly complain about “idiotic management decisions”, or perhaps worst of all, they may go behind your back and try to install themselves as the de facto project manager. Your task — and admittedly it’s a tough one — is to respond rather than react. Ideally, you can meet privately with rebellious or cynical colleagues and establish some common ground. If not, then you’ll need to speak to your boss, because protecting the integrity of the project is the most important objective. Hey, nobody said being a project manager would be a doddle, right?