Everyone wants to talk about project management as one of the keys to profitability. But based on some of what I have seen and heard lately, the problem may not be so much about how to do things right as much as it is to keep from doing things wrong. Project mismanagement is so widespread, it’s amazing. Even companies that outwardly look as if they must be doing everything right because they are profitable and growing may have so much project mismanagement going on that they could double or triple their results by dealing with just some of it. Here are a few real life examples of project mismanagement that I have heard about in the last couple months:Deadlines. Some PMs still routinely give their project team members artificial deadlines. They do this because they want to be sure they have everything done by the real deadline. Of course, inevitably, the word gets out to the people who are working on evenings and weekends that they didn’t really need to do that. And how does that make them feel? Mad! They were lied to. So the mismanagement results in the project team members not trusting any deadline they get from that point forward. Conflicting task descriptions. Some PMs don’t tell people what they want. Or worse, they give conflicting information. The PM says, “Draw all those buildings with properly pitched roofs.” When the PM is gone and the deputy PM takes over, she says, “Draw those buildings with flat roofs. We don’t care about pitched roofs.” Then when the PM gets back, he says, “We wanted those buildings drawn with pitched roofs.” Task descriptions should be in writing. If I were a project staffer, I’d insist on it. Yet the project staffer who asks for tasks in writing would, in many firms, be thought of as uncooperative! Necessary information. Some PMs still want people to work without the information that they need to do the job. This results in some tasks having to be completed more than once. “I can’t give you the scale to draw that in” or “I don’t have the equipment loads” may mean a complete stop until that information is available. It’s hard on a person’s morale to be working on something that he or she knows is probably all wrong and is going to be thrown out. If this isn’t mismanagement, I don’t know what is! Principal involvement. I think principals who work are great! But a problem develops when they come and go from the job and are so powerful or influential that no one can do anything without their approval. This can gum up the whole works! It’s also a problem if they are intimidating to the rest of the team and make insignificant last-minute changes that impact all kinds of work that’s already been done. Principals need an appropriate level of early involvement to get things going in the right direction. And PMs need to be sure that this is the role they play. Budgets. I am convinced that the solid majority of project-level personnel in architecture, engineering, or planning firms do not know what the budget is for the overall project or the tasks that they are working on. They just work, and somehow, the bills go out. Why is this? Because no one tells them. Or no one tells them where to look! Or they are given false information— they’re given a smaller budget than is really there for fear they will waste it. I also recently heard about a PM who instructed one of her project staff members to not record time to the job after he worked a long weekend. She didn’t want the budget to suffer, but didn’t mind if the staffer looked bad to management for having so much unbilllable time! In a case like this, the true costs to produce the project are never known. QA/QC. Due the general chaos and mismanagement that pervades the entire industry, there is rarely ever time to actually perform the quality checks that firms claim they will perform at various stages along the way. When you couple this with inexperienced personnel who don’t know what the budget, scope, and schedule for the job are, it’s mismanagement’s recipe for disaster.Dealing with some of these project mismanagement issues could have a huge payoff. E-mail me and share your thinking with the rest of our readers.Originally published 3/04/2002
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