Let’s play a game!
Five word horror stories—but with a project management twist.
I thought [insert coworker’s name] was responsible.
IT can’t handle that now.
That was due days ago.
There’s not enough budget now.
Have any of these project management nightmares ever haunted you?
It’s ok, I’ve been there too. And it’s painful. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Amanda Wodzenski, principal at HIKE2, has decades of experience leading massive projects across large teams. How does she ensure those project management horror stories don’t happen to her? She recently joined us on the Practically Genius podcast to share her secrets to project launch success.
Listen Now: If you’d rather listen than read, catch all of Amanda’s best project management tips by checking out her Practically Genius episode The Best Ways to Power Through Stuck Moments.
1. Align on Project Vision and Goals
When projects run into a roadblock that sends people’s stress levels soaring, it’s usually not due to a technical issue. “These problems are really rarely technical. It's usually an issue of alignment,” Amanda said.
She’s seen it time and time again with her clients: They go to launch a new project but don’t align the team on overall vision and goals. This ends up causing issues—sometimes pure chaos—down the road.
But Amanda points out it’s not just the vision of the project that needs to be made clear. You really need to start with the vision of the overall business and work from there. She went on to explain:
Setting a project’s vision and goals doesn’t have to be difficult or overly complicated. Amanda suggests starting off big and drilling down.
Start with the vision of the business. This should be the guiding light on any and all projects. Copy and paste it into the top of your master project document to ensure everyone can easily align to it.
Identify business goals. Your organization probably has a few high-level goals for the quarter or year. Which one(s) are you trying to support with the project? It’s best to stick to one high-level goal to keep everyone laser focused.
Define project goals. Once the high-level business vision and goals are laid out, you can start defining the distinct goals of the project. This can include hard numbers, like improving revenue by x%, and more subjective goals, like providing customers a better end-to-end experience.
Aligning on goals is one of the best ways to ensure a successful project launch. It helps all project stakeholders stay focused on what the end result should be, minimizing scope creep and strengthening the final results.
Related: Is Design Thinking the Secret to Building Better Processes?
2. Understand Roles and Responsibilities
One point Amanda made early on in her episode is it’s important to know who is ultimately accountable during a project.
If you’re looking from a bird’s-eye view, the project manager holds the most responsibility. Amanda explained, “Project managers are the ones who are ultimately accountable for the work getting done and the success of the project. So it's their job every single day to understand blockers and remove them.”
But project managers aren’t just responsible for identifying and removing blockers. From the get-go, one of their main jobs is to define the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders working on the project.
Think of your project manager as a captain of a ship—they dictate what the rest of the crew does to ensure it gets to harbor. Without clarity from the captain on what the roles and responsibilities are, the ship could get lost at sea.
Not setting clear expectations at the start of a project can set you up for disaster. To ensure confusion on responsibilities doesn’t become a roadblock later on, consider using one of these strategies to clearly assign duties upfront:
- Create a RACI chart
- Assign roles using a project management tool
- Use the ARPA method
- Build a project plan
- Try out PACSI
With everyone on the same page around who is responsible for what, your project can ship out for smooth sailing.
Does your next big project require some form of digitization? Get our Digital Transformation Checklist now to guide the project from inception to completion.
3. Assess Your Current Processes and Tech
You’ve aligned on goals, reviewed all roles and responsibilities, and now there’s one last thing to do before you jump in: Assess your current processes and tech stack. Doing this one simple step can help ensure your time, budget, and people are being used in the best ways possible.
Don’t commit to weeks of work if you don’t need to! The solution to your problem may already exist within your organization. Before you begin brainstorming ideas or Googling new technology, do a quick audit of the systems and tech throughout your org. Hopefully you’ve built a cross-functional team that has insight into all the tech used across different departments. Is there a tool or process that can help you accomplish the goals of this new project?
You might be surprised. As Amanda stated in her episode, one big mistake she sees clients make time and time again is not going “one more step.”
"You might be in one particular solution and things work pretty well there. Then somebody is looking to solve a slightly different problem. It doesn't necessarily mean you need to build a whole new app," Amanda said. "You could just have one more step in what they're doing that's working well today."
As budgets tighten and organizations look for ways to do more with less, this tip will become even more important to project planning. It not only allows you to identify existing tools that can be adjusted to fit your new use case or need, but also helps you avoid wasting money on “orphaned” SaaS apps.
In cases where a new tool is absolutely necessary, understanding the full scope of your org’s tech stack ensures you only invest in new tools that integrate into your current systems. This helps future proof your organization by identifying tools that can easily adapt and scale.
Prepare for Your Next Project Launch
By following the steps above, you can rest easy and avoid common project management nightmares. If you take the time to align on goals, review responsibilities, and assess systems and tech, you can go into your next project launch feeling prepared to tackle even the most difficult problem.
Want even more project management tips? Listen to Amanda’s Practically Genius podcast episode The Best Ways to Power Through Stuck Moments to discover ways to keep your team working efficiently towards accomplishing big goals.