New Year’s resolutions for a project managers

January was resolution month. Although it is cliché and we’re a month passed the date, for project managers it is ingrained in our psyches. In the project management handbook, we call it lessons learned.

Lessons learned is the part of the process in which we look back on our project and itemize what went well and how the project could have gone better.

These lessons fall into two categories: What I could have done better and what those around me could have done better. Since my resolutions are all about the lessons I need to learn, here are my three main project management-related resolutions for 2006:

  1. To more proactively manage issues.
  2. To further empower my team.
  3. To spend more time planning.

First, I need to head off issues before they have an impact on my project. Issues do not spontaneously materialize. The root of an issue is the risk that was growing below the surface before the issue became visible. For example, if my product design needs approval, there’s a risk I will not get approval. Delays could result and that implies increased costs to my project.

I know I need to lower the risk of that ever happening by doing the following. I need to work with the approving group up front to understand their acceptance criteria and how they like to operate. I need to talk to others who have received approval in the past, and those who did not, and find out what went right and what went wrong. I need to raise awareness on this risk, so no one is surprised, should it become real. And, finally, I need to transfer the responsibility to a project friend in a higher place, who might be in a better position to influence the group to grant me approval on my product design.

My second resolution is to empower my team to share responsibility for delivering the project. I need to do this at every opportunity – by getting my team’s input when creating the project plan. The plan is only valid when I have successfully negotiated delivery dates and work effort and we have agreed as a team to the commitments being made. I can also encourage the team to formerly manage and track its own issues. Every member of the team should be updating the issue-tracking document on a regular basis. Finally, I can also be a coach instead of a taskmaster. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welsh says the secret to success is to surround yourself with a team that is probably smarter than you are. Then you need to provide them with the direction and motivation to get the job done.

My final resolution is to spend more time planning. I should, for example, ensure the project charter is of high quality. The charter needs to be a solid, well-written document that your grandmother would understand. I can also plan for meetings. For a meeting to reach a predefined outcome, the agenda needs to be solid. I should also plan to manage by walking around so I know what is really in the hearts and minds of the team.

In the end, however, project managers have one common resolution: To deliver the project results on time and on budget as promised.

Robert Black is president of Project Masters Incorporated and has 22 years experience working in the IT sector.
rblack9@cogeco.ca

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