Avoid These Five Project Problem Areas – Part 2

In part one of this two part series, we examined the first two of my personal list of five key project problem areas to watch out for to keep your project's wheels from coming off. Let's consider three more as you think about your own areas that have caused you issues with projects throughout your project management experiences.

Vague budget. Managing the budget to keep both your executive management happy and the customer happy is one of the key responsibilities of the project manager, in my opinion. Losing control of the budget is never a good thing and can easily lead to a project being canceled…which can be a career-killer if it’s the right..or wrong project.

As bad as that is, having a project that lacks a budget or has a vague budget isn’t much better. Trying to manage a budget that doesn’t really exist or is a moving target can lead to great dissatisfaction for the project manager and the customer. 

I was leading a large federal project with a ‘vague’ budget of $1.2 million for the implementation. Some processes were taking longer than anticipated – mostly because the customer data was far more detailed and of a larger volume than previously understood through the exploration phase. I was also of the understanding that the budget could be increased to cover this issue. That was not the case and there was a lot of corrective action that had to be taken – even though the customer was well aware of the issues and the budget concerns.

Having a good understanding of the budget you’re managing is critical and gives the project manager much more control in keeping the project in check and keeping customer confidence high.

Indecisive Customer. An indecisive customer is as bad as an ill-prepared customer. If you’re running a phased project and they keep moving implementation phases around, that can affect many things on your project over the course of the engagement. It can affect when you on-board particular expertise, and with resources tight, it can throw off your entire resource planning process.

If the customer continually changes their mind on requirements, tasks, deliverables and milestones, the overall affect to your project schedule can be monumental. The risks to track will mount, and the change orders will mount as well. In the end, customers who have paid for a lot of change orders are not usually the happiest customers – even if they are the primary reason for the many change orders. 

Manage the customer well and keep their expectations…and their changes in check if at all possible. Set the understanding up front, during kickoff, that the project schedule is important and should be changed as little as possible – otherwise it is of no use.

Flexible Project Plan. Some of what is applicable here was already covered as part of ‘Indecisive Customer’ above. However, there are more concerns with this one and it bears more discussion here. 

It is critical at the time of kickoff to review the project plan in draft and discuss milestones. Get the customer’s verbal agreement at that time as to the general milestones and anticipated implementation date. And, within the first 2-3 weeks of the project, finalize this project plan in greater detail and obtain a formal customer signoff, if necessary, to ensure that everyone is on the same page with dates, expectations, etc. 

A moving target project plan is nobody’s friend. You never want to be known as the ‘flexible’ project manager. If dates, tasks, and milestones are constantly shifting, then your ability to hold delivery team members and customer team members accountable to dates and tasks falls apart and you’re still left with the target on your forehead.

Summary / call for input

This list could go on and on...especially if you've had a long project management career like me. What's on your list? Please share your own thoughts and experiences...

 

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