Project management tasks: How PMs lie to themselves

You are a project manager in an exciting project. The timeline has been set, decisions have been made, the project goals set and communicated, the decision for the appropriate project management tool. So what can go wrong? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is: everything.

According to a study by the Project Management Institute, companies that underestimate project management report over 67 percent more project failures. The misfortune usually begins with project managers who are driven by wrong ideas about how a successful project can be planned and achieved.

Below we have compiled eight of the most common lies with which project managers endanger themselves – and the success of the project.

Aligning yourself to milestones seems sensible at first, but it can be dangerous. Because milestones are not tasks and do not advance the mission. They only provide information about the distance covered. So there has to be someone who breaks down milestones into very specific tasks and makes it clear to everyone involved what needs to be done to achieve them. That someone is the project manager.

Many project managers now consider milestones to be dangerous for the reasons mentioned: “The trick is to take large projects apart with skill,” says Paige Costello, product management manager at Asana, a manufacturer of project management tools. “Sometimes the most distant milestone is assumed, some date in the future chosen and the fingers crossed. But the more obvious the components are that are necessary to achieve this goal, the easier it becomes to understand which processes should take place at the same time and which dependencies exist between the individual project components. This is the only way to arrive at a good plan for the project flow. “

Knowing the finish line is essential to successfully complete a race. Transferred to project management, however, it is all too often the case that PMs cannot clearly describe what the goal achievement – or the final state – should look like.

“Project managers tell themselves: ‘Everyone knows what the goal is,'” says Kim Kessler, Vice President of Product at Caremerge. “But unfortunately, often nobody knows. It is the responsibility of the project manager to give the ideas of the stakeholders a precise definition and to align them with the project process. Otherwise, every project turns into pure speculation.”

Another common misconception among project managers is that everyone agrees on the standards by which success is assessed and measured. In fact, it is absolutely essential that the question at the beginning of the project is how exactly the performance is measured.

“If the objective is diffuse: ‘We want to make things a bit more intuitive and simple’, then it has to be defined in detail what that means in concrete terms,” ​​says Kessler.

All project participants hang in there, strive to work overtime, take part in meetings and report on their progress. So the necessary work is done perfectly – another common misconception.

“Everyone lies to everyone and thinks that effort is synonymous with earnings. But that’s not the case. Efforts are difficult to quantify, but earnings can be measured relatively easily,” says author and consultant Glen B. Alleman.

A strategy that divides the project into measurable sections is helpful in such situations. After all, nobody wants to work hard for three months to end up being poorly rated. Therefore, project managers should be assigned tasks that can be completed within a certain time frame.

Quite a few people in the project management environment know that if project managers are convinced that “only the simple part” of a project is due, there are often many unsightly events. For example, about unexpected technical problems, difficulty understanding task objectives, scarcity of resources, insufficient budget or the painful realization that there is no backup plan.

“Not understanding the complexity of a requirement from the start is the height of self-denial,” said Beth Scudder, Client Services Manager at Saggezza. “If someone takes on a certain task that those responsible don’t know that the task has a significant impact on various other aspects of the project, it can lead to misfortune.”

Therefore, review each task that you think is easy to do. How did you come up with this assessment? Did you really understand the objective? And do you know exactly what is necessary to achieve your goals?

“One of the most common ways that project managers pretend is to do unpleasant or risky tasks yourself because they think they can do it,” says Costello. “They tell themselves that they just work a little harder, catch up in the next phase of the project, take a few night shifts if necessary, and ultimately become project superheroes.”

In fact, it usually happens that project managers end up watching the entire project hit the wall. The fault is the misjudgment of being able to regulate everything yourself and therefore not needing a plan B or deliberately not being able to involve experts.

“It would be better to share challenges and problems with the team and then tackle them together,” Costello recommends.

Being the person with the plan but without technical skills is not a nice role. The feeling often arises that one’s own achievements are not recognized. However, this is about the same as saying that the rudder of a ship is useless because it is under water and therefore not visible.

“There are always processes and technologies that make everything better and more efficient,” said ChenLi Wang, senior vice president at Pango. “In the end, it is crucial that the entire team pulls together to achieve the goal. Ensuring that is the job of the project manager.”

Wang is not the only decision maker who appreciates the value of good project management work. According to the aforementioned PMI survey, this applies to two thirds of managers. In addition, almost half of the organizations surveyed in this context prioritize the development of a corporate culture that values ​​project management.

“Project managers are risk managers. And risk management is the extreme case of how adults manage projects,” says Alleman.

If you want to achieve a goal in a team, you need leadership skills. After all, it is people who ultimately ensure successful completion – not milestones, deadlines, budgets or resources.

“The people are crucial,” agrees Wang. “It is important to form a team whose cooperation is based on mutual trust – and of course on using project managers who can get the best out of these people.”

Project managers are so much more than just the types that tick the box. You are a consultant, guide, mental coach and manager in one.

This article is based on an article from our US sister publication CIO.com.

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