Project managers are human, just like everyone else, but are sometimes (Ed note: mostly) expected to perform superhuman feats to get projects done on time and under budget. These high expectations mean that we will be called on and held accountable for every failure.
But we don’t want our failures known. The team would lose confidence in us, doubting our skills and effectiveness. So we hide whatever we can and toss it aside, praying people won’t notice if we don’t call attention to it. But unless these mistakes are addressed, they will boomerang and smack us in the face again and again.
As leaders, we’re supposed to act like we always know what we’re doing. But we don’t. We can’t. So we fake it, pretending knowledge where we have none, making wrong assumptions and pulling estimates out of thin air. But people take us at our word, and these hasty commitments come back to bite us and the team.
Don’t pretend. You can admit a lack of knowledge without being ignorant. That’s why the phrase, “I’ll look into that,” was invented.
Taking the Blame
Contrary to popular belief, not everything is you or your team’s fault. But that doesn’t stop others from trying to pin everything on you. If these people are influential, like management or the client, you might actually be intimidated enough to let them.
Don’t. Conserve your and your team’s pride by sticking up for yourself. Accept accountability; dodge the blame.
Taking Things for Granted
Project managers have a thousand details to think about, both large and small. We don’t have the team to track down and confirm every single one. Often times, we send an email or notice out without checking to see if it’s actually been read. And though we can blame the person who didn’t check their email, the effect is still the same: a missed deadline, a missing feature, and a malformed product.
You can’t follow up everything, but you can do so for the critical issues. Spend your “follow up” time wisely.
Admit it. You know that the proposed project timeline is too short. But you shrug and accept anyway, thinking that if everything went right, and the client submitted their deliverables on time, that maybe… just maybe…
Wake up! Project management is no place for wishful thinking. You’re an experienced and knowledgeable project manager, and if your gut is telling you it can’t be done, listen to it. And make sure the stakeholders hear it, too. If they decide to proceed even so, then so be it. Just make sure you don’t take the flak when it falls apart.
Not Saying No
Project managers are under a lot of pressure to please—management, the client, the team… Everyone wants the project manager to represent them and find the best way to meet their needs. It can be hard for the project manager to deny a request. What happens is that we over-commit, promising too much when we can only do so little. And chances are you won’t want to burden your team with that extra work the client asked for, so you put it on top of your already teetering to-do pile.
Learn your limits, and learn the limits of your team. Don’t stretch your resources too thin, otherwise you’ll risk burning people out and courting wholesale project failure.
And yes, you count as a resource, too.