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The Eight Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers


If you're an IT Project Manager, it's a horrible feeling isn't it? A Project that has failed.

Mix together how it would feel to be a football manager whose team selections over a season led to relegation, with the emotions of an Olympic athlete who after 4 years of sacrifice and preparation, steps onto the track and twists an ankle, and then blend in the despair of a weight loss instructor who drives home past McDonalds and sees all her class standing in the queue ... and you’re probably about halfway there.

It's a rotten feeling.

You should not beat yourself up too much though - nine times out of ten you are building something from scratch. If you were a house builder you would build a bungalow pretty much in the way that every bungalow, for years has been built, same for engineers tasked with great infrastructure projects and surgeons carrying out operations. Previous procedures map the way and while the same is sometimes true of an IT Project and occasionally there are experiences to draw from, an IT Project Manager is more often a brave explorer navigating entirely new territory.

Feel any better about yourself?

Probably not. You invest blood, sweat and tears into a project - it becomes a personal thing. You live it and breathe it and love it and when it doesn't love you back - it hurts.

The Finance Director and the board to whom your project is accountable don't see you as a Columbus, a Magellan or Marco Polo figure of course, to them you are just the clown who has smashed recklessly beyond his budget or the false prophet who missed a promised completion date by a country mile.

Oh, and unless you are a Project Manager yourself you won't understand how much it hurts - your partner, your friends down the pub, your squash partner - none of them will get why it eats at you so much.

Ultimately IT Project failure is a very lonely pursuit.

Here's how to make sure it never happens again.

The Eight Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers.

1 - Expect Success

Google "reasons for IT project failure" ... About 24,400,000 results right? Bad place to start. Promise to never read another article that highlights why projects fail. Instead learn from, emulate and expect success.

Figures vary, in his CIOINSIGHT post "10 Classic Project Management Mistakes" Dennis McCafferty1 states "three-quarters of project participants lack confidence that their efforts will succeed" and he is probably not far off the mark.

Go out to win.

2 - Know Who The Boss of the Project Is

It's you. You need to ensure that you have total backing from senior management on this. There must be direct communication from you to your stakeholders and the key message stakeholders should get from you is "we mean business, this will happen so you're either in or you're out - literally".

Most IT Projects face resistance because what you are managing is change.

People don't like change.

Projects that don't have total support from senior management led by PMO without authority will always flounder BUT be careful as project manager to make sure no-one from senior management effectively takes control of the project - you need their backing to make things happen - nothing more than that!

3 - It's a Team Game

You're the boss - but you're Project Manager not Project Dictator. Getting a project's end-users involved at the earliest stage, improves its potential for success.

You're in IT, and I mean this with the greatest affection, but you can be a bit blinkered and get really excited by the latest IT development. Me too! The end client - the guys who input the data or those who are customer facing at the sharp end of the business - they just want to serve their customer better. You should learn from that and serve your customer better.

Be a sponge and soak up knowledge from the people who will be affected most by the change you are managing - the end users and the businesses clients are a massive resource for success.

Seek to understand before you prescribe, and make sure that your client is as focussed on what they want from the project, really drill down and agree specific required outcomes.

Remember though, ultimately, you are the boss! I mean you're no dictator but no-one said your project was a free for all democracy either!! You'll be amazed how much smoother a project runs though when everyone is completely on board.

4 - Be Specific When Agreeing Project Scope, Business Case and Outcomes

Before you start make sure that you know how the project should look and feel when it is finished. Business case, stakeholder and end-user requirements and project scope have to be clearly defined and crucially have them written down so that you can refer back to them if (actually when) you hit resistance. Make sure the client and stakeholders understand and have signed them off, then ... you're the boss remember ... so stick rigidly to the scope document.

Sometimes changes will be needed, inevitable when managing change. When that happens you pull out the original brief and you put any changes through your change management process, you have a change management process, right? If not, adopt one even if it's as simple as "State" > "Substantiate" > "Settle".

Make sure that all changes are documented complete with business case justifications and any supporting notes.

5 - Make Mission Milestones and Manage Expectations

By chunking your project into smaller missions with agreed deliverable you can demonstrate periodic wins and at the same time keep a check on the forecast project end date. Importantly, though you can keep stakeholders happy with a taste of joy the overall project at regular intervals.

You promised big, the stakeholder expects big and you will deliver big ... but a six month project will take six months but the thing is that you are seen as some kind of IT wizard and if your magic wand doesn't deliver quick results then they will lose faith and interest. Remember you have to have all users on board throughout, throw them regular treats to show that the pain of change is worth it.

6 - Talk Your Customer's Language

At least, don't talk yours. IT speak is all well and good ... when you're at an IT conference. Use it on mere mortals and they'll zone out. The best way to show that you have truly understood a client's requirements is to mirror it back at them in their terms.

7 - Listen to The Heart Beat of Your Project

Your IT project will generate a lot of data during its lifecycle.

That data is the heartbeat of the project - listen to it regularly. By turning data into reportable, understandable information you take away the guesswork and mitigate potential for risk.

Quantifiable and continuous fact-rooted analysis - at your fingertips by request - can be the difference between success and failure.

8 - Enjoy it

Nothing is harder work than a job that you don't enjoy and Project Management is hard enough without seeing it as a chore! Your enthusiasm will rub off on all stakeholders and encourage them to buy in and keep the faith.

Smile, whistle while you work and fist punch the air when milestones and targets are met.

I just came across a nice blog by Duncan Haughey2 "Successful Projects: It's Not Rocket Science" - it's worth a read and Duncan is spot on - it isn't rocket science.

BUT it is a science and like any science, it's largely exploration and lighting your own way in the dark. Adopt these Eight Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers or buy in Project Management As A Service from a partner who has internalised them already and ENJOY as your project success rate soars.

Contact us to learn more about how Stoneseed's Project Management as a Service can give you access to project management staff, resources and tools at a flexible and predictable cost via a fully structured managed service.

Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed

1. 10 Classic Project Management Mistakes
2. Successful Projects: It's Not Rocket Science

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