If you are a project manager, chances are there was something you wish you’d done better, earlier. To help others have this insight into the roads not taken, I asked project managers to share their biggest regrets about past projects and how to overcome them. Here are their anonymous answers.
💡 “I should have built a better team.”
Now is not the time to be a lone wolf. If you’re a project manager, it’s crucial that you spend a significant amount of time during your planning stages setting up your team for success. You’ll need the best talent to ensure that your project succeeds. But the individuals in the team are only part of the equation.
The difference between an outstanding team and one that struggles isn’t just competence or technical skills. Soft skills are just as important. The best teams also have favorable chemistry, and if assembled well can become more than just coworkers who happen to be working together on a project: they can become friends who genuinely want each other to succeed professionally and personally. It takes work—the effort you put into forging these bonds will pay huge dividends when deadlines come looming closer on the horizon.
💡 “I could have listened to the stakeholders better.”
Most projects have multiple stakeholders. You need to make sure you find out who the stakeholders are in your project and you need to ensure that their needs and concerns are addressed. Remember, stakeholders are the people who will benefit from the project and they are also the people who can exert influence on your project!
If you don’t listen to what they want, then there is a greater chance that they will become unhappy during the course of your project, which can lead to all sorts of problems. The best way to avoid this is by involving them throughout the life cycle of your project – not just at certain key points.
What happens if you don’t involve them? They may feel excluded, even disrespected. They may start looking for other ways to exert control over “their” area of business – which could mean delaying decisions or canceling approvals for example.
The end result? Your projects will take longer than expected, budgets will slip and stakeholder satisfaction won’t be high!
💡 “I should have been more communicative.”
You should communicate as early and often as possible. You might think you are overcommunicating, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to communication; better to communicate too much than too little. When project members know what is going on, they feel more confident about the project and their role in the project. As a result, people are more likely to help you get the job done well.
Explain why you are communicating by saying things like “I am telling you this because…” or “By telling you this I hope that…” or “The purpose of this communication is so that…” By explaining why you are sharing information with others, people understand your motivation and how the information fits into their work.
Use communication to keep people focused on the right priorities and objectives. People can easily get distracted by different priorities and new ideas unless they hear regularly from you about what really matters for them and for the project.
Use communication to keep people engaged in the project activities through updates about where things stand now, future plans (even if those plans aren’t yet finalized), specific actions being taken, results achieved so far, potential issues and risks – all of these topics will help keep everyone engaged in your team effort.
Use communications to keep people motivated by sharing positive feedback from customers or other stakeholders about their work on your project. This helps ensure that everyone feels good about contributing their talents toward a common goal that benefits others beyond themselves.
💡”I shouldn’t have started without a clear scope.”
It’s easy to get excited about a new project and want to start working on it as soon as possible. But if you don’t spend the time at the beginning of any project to define what it is you are going to work on, you run the risk of scope creep—the slow expansion of your project that can lead to delays and cost overruns.
Scope creep can be a good thing when the product is improved, but without clear boundaries established early in the project, it’s difficult to know when “improvements” are making the product better or just creating extra work.
💡 “I should have had the executive sponsorship engaged and socialized.”
When you’re tasked with making a change, whether it’s big or small, you need to have someone in the organization who has enough authority to drive the change forward. If you don’t, you’ll be struggling to get things done and will lose credibility with others.
It doesn’t matter what type of change you’re trying to make: if you’re spearheading an effort to improve the customer experience, refactoring code, or implementing a new technology, without a sponsor behind it, it won’t go anywhere. The executive sponsor can help remove roadblocks and provide guidance and resources. They can provide political cover when the going gets tough.
The key here is that this person needs to be engaged in your efforts—and socialized within their own circle of influence. There should be no doubt as to what your goal is and why they endorsed it. You want them to be able to talk about your initiative with confidence and clarity.
💡 “I wish more people would consider planning as a collaborative venture.”
As a project manager, I find that it’s important to remember that project planning is a collaborative venture. Everyone has a stake in the outcome and should be able to provide valuable input. It’s best not to plan in a vacuum. You may have the best-laid plans in the world, but if you haven’t consulted with all stakeholders who will be affected by those plans, your solution will come under fire when you present it. Make sure everyone knows what you are doing from start to finish and everyone will be more likely to embrace your plan.
💡 “I regret not having people with the right skill set perform or execute tasks.”
Whether it concerns design, implementation, planning, or cost control. This is one of the biggest regrets project managers have reported. You’ve had a plan and you know what you are supposed to do, but you may feel that your team is not properly skilled to carry out their tasks or lack the experience needed to do their tasks efficiently. In this case, you can take various actions which will help improve your team’s performance.
The major skill sets required for project success are technical skills (such as specialized software knowledge or familiarity with certain equipment), personal skills (such as problem-solving abilities or leadership) and managerial skills (to ensure adequate staff supervision). All of these can be trained, so if someone lacks any of these don’t worry because there are plenty of ways to improve your team’s skillset.
Having the right people on board ensures the delivery of project outcomes in a timely manner with high-quality results. For instance, if you try to implement technology without designing a system architecture first then most likely it would be inefficient and difficult for new users to adopt it into their daily work routine.
It is important that people understand how they fit into the overall process from start to finish so that they can be efficient in executing their tasks and know where they stand within the overall workflow progress. It also helps them realize how their individual contributions make up part of an entire solution that will solve an issue faced by customers who need these types of services offered by other companies within similar industries.
💡 “I wish that when I first started, I better understood the difference between a risk and an issue. Also that some risks deserve more attention than others.”
The difference between a risk and an issue is best described by the following: a risk is an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives. An issue is a problem that must be resolved in order for the project to move forward. In other words, risks are potential problems that may occur, but haven’t happened yet. Issues are real-life problems that have already happened and need to be addressed before moving on with the project.
Another key thing to remember when managing risks is that some risks deserve more attention than others. These are called critical risks or high-priority issues.
So where does this leave us?
You can manage projects while learning from your own past mistakes: There’s nothing wrong with failing. In fact, it’s an important part of the project management process. By making mistakes on smaller projects, you get valuable experience that helps you avoid those same mistakes on larger projects. That said, if you can learn from someone else’s mistakes rather than your own, that’s even better!
As part of developing a summary of lessons learned for any project, make sure you not only identify the major lessons but also summarize them in a way that makes sense to others. Make sure this summary is available for all other stakeholders as well as for future project managers working on similar projects.