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The 5 “Don’ts” of Project Management

Reading various blogs, articles and papers on how to be successful as a project manager got me thinking about what NOT to do as a PM. I have seen some major “do nots” throughout a 27-year career in project management and it is only in hindsight that these became my lessons for the future.

From experience, there are myriad reasons why project managers take the wrong route on things. It could be because they have little or no time to do the things required to manage a project, creating a pressure valve whereby incorrect decisions are made, and time is being spent on things that a project manager should not be doing. It could be because people are skeptical of the true value of project management or that the project manager simply does not understand what is expected of them in a project management role (which is very often the case). Whatever the reason may be, we can take the opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes.

So here are my top five “don’ts” of a project manager. Feel free to agree or disagree but I hope it gets you thinking.

1) Don’t get stuck in the weeds.

In most cases, the management of a project does not offer spare time to get involved in the weeds of the project. There is an old expression, the devil is in the details, and this is so true, especially on large and/or complex projects. A project manager can easily focus on various line items of the project while failing to ignore the big picture. The job of the PM is to focus on the stakeholder relationships and to manage expectations. If you want to live in the details, stop being a project manager.

2) Don’t take a short corner route for your own gain.

Taking a short corner is really about a lack of engagement. One of the surest ways of alienating any stakeholder is when they find out about things too late. The project manager is then becoming the master of ceremonies rather than the facilitator of ceremonies. Avoid the temptation to place meetings in front of stakeholders and expect them to attend every meeting you invite them to. Keep people informed as you go along and adopt the principle of ‘Management by Walking Around’ …yes, the great discipline of MBWA!

3) Don’t keep problems to yourself.

This is one of the most wasteful activities that a project manager can do. Keeping problems to yourself is a form of procrastinating that has little value to the role of a project manager. When the PM procrastinates, this means the business will procrastinate and that means we all procrastinate. Many managers do not have the time to do the things they should be doing, but in this case project managers should focus on the essentials of what needs to be done. Very often the focus of procrastination is on the difficult items or the items that there is no solution for. We rarely procrastinate on the easy things.

4) Don’t be afraid to challenge those around you.

It is impossible to please everyone all the time, but it is important to challenge people and to challenge the level of complacency, when appropriate. Understand the key project constituents and stakeholders and then focus your attention on them. Challenging others is not always focused on the conflict mode of operation but sometimes it is being creative and focusing on possible inertias within the project.

5) Don’t hide behind your desk.

Project managers need to get out from behind the desk. It is easy to get managed by email, most of which is an annoyance and unrelated to the project. If working in a virtual environment, get on the phone and build relationships with the project team. Speaking with people can help you identify risks and uncover those issues that are smoldering fires before they take hold.

My hope it that this gets you thinking about the “don’t” of project management – sometimes it is the simple things. If you have others that spring to mind, feel free to share them with us.

Liam Dillon is a Senior Consultant with IIL and the Managing Director and President of Turlon & Associates. Liam has been involved in project and program management since 1995, working with various applications and technologies in Ireland, Asia-Pacific and North America. As part of Turlon, Liam works with various blue-chip companies, on a consultancy basis, in growing levels of project and program management maturity.

Liam has served as the President of the Ireland Chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI)® and is currently a member PMI’s Global Board Volunteer Advisory Group. Coupled with his industrial experience, Liam spends time speaking on the topic of project, program and portfolio management.

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