IT project management is a field where the outcomes are unpredictable and it is extremely tricky to plan ahead. As a rule, once a task is completed, it generates a couple of new ones, pushing the deadlines back. It is common knowledge that you can succeed in such projects only by trial and error. However, today you do not need to start from scratch. You can improve your project management skills by learning how to avoid common reckless steps taken by other PMs.
Without further ado, here are the real-life bad scenarios of ineffective project management in the IT industry. Although the following tips refer to the IT, they might come in handy in managing any projects.
1. Trying to plan everything ahead
At Flowlu, we once planned to develop tons of features for the following four months. We devised a detailed plan and set specific, measurable goals. Yet, eventually we managed to fulfill less than 30% of the expected tasks. And this happened not just due to technical obstacles that we didn’t recognize while planning. There was another reason. When we completed a couple of tasks and received first feedback, we came up with a completely new vision of how to move forward and what tasks needed to be performed in the first place.
We also discovered that long-term planning had an adverse impact on the employees’ productivity. People tend to set unrealistic deadlines when planning complex tasks over a long period of time. This often wears out and frustrates the project team members. In that case, coworkers usually complete tasks for the sake of simply meeting deadlines and do not apply any creativity to perform more complex assignments.
Ever since, we’ve been practicing detailed planning only for the following month. For that, our team prefers using Flowlu Agile tools. They can adjust task’s priority, steps, and detailed description in the backlog if a task is not included in the current sprint. When resources are limited and the number of tasks, on the contrary, is boundless, it is critical to concentrate on the most important things and perform them first.
2. Not setting deadlines for tasks
Westheimer’s rule says: to estimate the time it takes to do a task, estimate the time you think it should take, multiply by two, and change the unit of measure to the next highest unit. Hence, if you think that to complete a task, it will take 2 hours, multiply it by two and convert it into days — you will need to allocate 4 days.
Another evidence shows that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of all activities. And the other 80% of the actions accounts for the completion of 20% of the work. So why does this happen? Once the hardest part of the assignment is finally completed, some flaws may occur over and over again leading to ongoing improvement and correction. And we know, this process might be endless. However, without setting deadlines, complex tasks will take forever to complete. The key here is to set deadlines reasonably.
Agile estimating techniques may be beneficial when setting deadlines for complex tasks. Planning poker lets agile teams estimate the time needed to perform each task on their backlog. The teammates utilize physical cards to estimate the number of story points (overall efforts) for each backlog assignment. All participants’ demonstrate their cards, and if the cards are different, then they continue to discuss this task until they reach the consensus.
Sticking to deadlines also helps to perform the most important and complicated tasks first. Most people tend to procrastinate and put off hardest tasks for later. Instead, we often get stuck on more trivial things, like text rewriting, code refactoring, etc.
That’s why our team put off tiny mistakes and improvements for the end of the sprint. Even if we don’t have time for them, there’s no harm done, because the most important tasks will still be completed. It is important to plan the most of work at the start of the sprint and empty the rest of the time until the end of the sprint. We also recommend setting the deadline a few days earlier than the actual deadline. This will help you to avoid completing complex tasks “in a hurry” when the deadline arrives.
3. Keeping team in the dark
Managers should keep their teams in the loop ensuring each teammate knows the project progress and current performance. The employees need to see the bigger picture and feel their involvement to the whole process. That is why our team holds 15-minute standup meetings on a daily basis. Every participant tells the whole team what they managed to achieve yesterday, what difficulties they encountered, and what results they plan to accomplish today. This gives your entire team full transparency over the project operations.
At standups meetings, it is important to share the results, rather than talk about the process. Instead of saying “Yesterday I spent all day crafting layouts,” it should be the following: “I’ve made 8 layouts yesterday.” This helps the team concentrate on the outcome. Moreover, when you promise to do something today in public, it encourages you to keep up the pace of work.
4. Not breaking down large projects
By breaking down the project into smaller chunks, you can better understand the scope of work and get more clarity on how to perform it and what the outcome should be. Large projects always lead to procrastination, anxiety and exhaustion. When people have no clear understanding about how much time and efforts this specific project takes, they feel overwhelmed. Once you break down a project into more manageable units, you have better insights into the project progress which significantly increases the motivation.
When decomposing projects, you should strike a balance between making too general structure or, on the contrary, too detailed. As it might eventually become too challenging to manage such a project. Ideally, it should include up to 5 stages with specific milestones and tasks.
5. Creating the best possible working environment
No, we did not mix up the headline 🙂 Many believe that if you allocate enough time, plan each step in a clear way, avoid external distractions and pressure, then the project would be completed on time and everything would be impeccable.
However, when everything is in order, it is actually more complicated for a lot of people to stay organized and concentrate on work. Moreover, many people tend to thrive under stressful conditions. So when the project comes to a standstill, it might benefit to create a more hectic environment. Several studies show that it helps to fuel people’s minds due to adrenaline release. It lets you boost your information processing and even improve memory.
Still, it is important not to go over the top and apply this principle excessively. Do not let this technique produce apathy. You should try to continuously maintain a positive environment in the workplace. Support your team members, encourage honest communication, give them more responsibility and remember to introduce more challenging tasks to let them achieve greater results.