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The five most broken project management rules

Project managers should be able to answer confidently questions like these:  Who will do what on the project?  When will the project go live?  How much will it cost and how much have we spent so far?  If something changes, how would other parts of the plan be affected? What has been completed and what is early / late?

These very simple sounding questions are often difficult to answer and too often the answers are wildly inaccurate.  If you can’t answer them you are likely to miss deadlines and go over budget.  Here are our five top rules to observe.

Rule 1: Maintain a high level plan

…and review it regularly with key stakeholders.  If the only plan that exists is a 4000 line project plan it’s usually safe to assume it is wrong and out of date.  The unnecessary complexity of managing these plans often impacts the ability to deliver them.

Rule 2: Make sure you really are tracking progress

To track progress, don’t use time or money spent as the measure – use tasks and sub-tasks that have completed. Nearly completed tasks don’t count.  Tasks can be stuck at 95% complete for a long time.  Use carefully designed dashboards with numbers to track progress.  Wordy progress reporting can mislead.

Rule 3: Be realistic about future productivity

Use historic rate of progress as an indicator of potential future progress.  Many project managers convince themselves that in the future productivity will increase dramatically without intervention.  This is usually because a deadline looms rather than because anything has changed.  Do the steps being taken to increase productivity sound convincing?

Rule 4: Treat plans like scientific theorems

Don’t have faith in them.  Instead put regular and concerted effort into thinking about how they might be wrong and fixing them if necessary.  Most plans are massively dependent on a small number of risks and issues.  The faster you can find them and resolve them, the closer you will be to a realistic plan.

Rule 5: Don’t be informal

Too often project managers informally agree things with suppliers or sponsors but haven’t made the change formal e.g. via a formal correspondence, change control, updating the project plan, etc.  If things go wrong or there are people changes, such friendly informality can cause a great deal of pain.  Make sure you have an audit trail of every significant change.

We’ve found these rules useful in delivering effective projects throughout our 25 years and wanted to share them with you. Project managers breaking these rules could be trouble.

Get in touch if you’d like to know more.