Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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5 things project managers should stop doing

When I work with organisations to develop their project management capability, the same issues come up time and again. I'm sharing some of the most common pitfalls here as often project managers don't know that they're doing them. A couple I recognise from my earlier years when I was learning my trade. It took the honesty of a leader, stakeholder or mentor to bring them to my attention as self-awareness wasn't something that the younger me did all that well.

Once I knew what they were they were hard to change as they'd become habit, however it was necessary to my development as a project manager and a leader that they were changed. So here they are, the top five things that my customers want their project managers to stop doing and my advice on what could be done instead.

1. Sending out A Gantt Chart

The schedule is a very important tool. The detail it contains is critical in ensuring that tasks happen when they should, risks are mitigated, dependent tasks understood and opportunities exploited where the time exists. Keeping this informationin one place makes absolute sense.


When inputting the schedule into a tool such as Microsoft Project, it can be viewed it as a Gantt chart. This is a useful way for a project manager to get a holistic view of what is happening but it's an appalling communication tool. When they're sent out or printed off the project manager is letting their stakeholders know that they can't be bothered to create something  that's simplified for their audience. Hint: when someone has to squint to read something, that's not a good thing!

INSTEAD:  Send out a table of the key deliverables and show the progress towards their completion. Or else use Visio, excel or other tools (that aren't Powerpoint) that can simplify the detail of the schedule.

2. Talking about their tools

Imagine talking to a finance analyst about how you're progressing from a budget perspective and instead of telling you, they explain the method they been trained in, the processes they use and the templates that need to be filledin, in order to keep the budget on track. I got bored just writing that and yet, project managers do it all the time. Some examples that my clients cite include:

'We need to build the PID at the end of this workshop'
'We need to capture the risks and put them in the risk register'
'We need to write a comms plan'

Which ones are you familiar with? There are probably hundreds more. The tools that project managers use to do their job should never been seen or heard of by team members.

INSTEAD: Talk about the activities required to gather the information 'I need to understand how we're progressing with the actions to lessen the risks we have', 'it's important we understand our stakeholders so that we know how to target our communications', 'once we've pulled all of the information together we'll have a comprehensive plan as to how to proceed'.

3. Treating everyone in the same way

Every single person on the planet is different.  That's right, no two people are the same, not even The Proclaimers, trust me. We all have different  histories, strengths, weaknesses, motivations, valves,  emotions and dreams. Yet project managers still think they can hold a risk workshop with 15 people and expect them all to contribute. Extroverts will fight to take centre stage, whilst introverts will remain tight lipped. The same is true of meetings, 'team building' events and rewards that you may hand out throughout the project. Not everyone likes going to the cinema!

INSTEAD: Different personalities require different approaches. With introverts, ask for their inputs via email before a workshop or meeting so that you can raise them at the right time (with attribution of course). Control the energy of extroverts so as to avoid confrontation by indicating the order in which you'll take ideas (and how many!)

4. Telling the team how to collaborate

Following on from the above, a classic mistake project managers continue to make is 'forcing' collaboration onto teams. Collaborationcan only be achieved if the group who need to collaborate decide that that's how it's going to happen. To paraphrase comedian Louis C.K., you can't just sit down and say 'collaborate', it just doesn't work like that. Some project team members meet separately and find ways to collaborate despite a project manager, who will then look to take the credit for the swift resolution of issues! Collaboration can't occur when you tell people you're going to do everything as a workshop, meeting or stand up.

INSTEAD: Make your first meeting one where you and the team agree on how you'll collaborate. This would also be a good time to agree on the tools that you're going to use to do so. After all it is 2015.

5. Setting expectation by email

And finally, my personal favourite.

'Dear Francis, please can you ensure that you have your report completed and back to me by 12pm on Friday please? Thanks, Colin.'

'Dear Francis, just a reminder that your report is due by 12pm Friday. Thanks, Colin.'

'Francis, it's now 11.59am on Friday and I'm yet to receive your report. Please send it over asap. Colin'

'Francis, I've extended the 12pm deadline by an hour to give you time to complete your report and send it over. Colin'

'Francis, if your report isn't over to me by 3.30pm, I'll have to submit my overall report without your comments. Colin'

'Francis, it's now 4.15pm and I've submitted my overall report without your update. We need to talk about this next week. Colin'

'Francis, is everything ok? Call me. Colin'

INSTEAD: Sit down with your team members or speak to them on the phone/Skype to set expectations to ensure that they're well understood and then follow it up with an email to confirm (if you feel this is necessary). Every time you have to chase for an update, follow the same face-to-face, phone or Skype approach as it's too easy for people to ignore emails.

These changes that a project manager can make will improve the customer experience and team engagement significantly. Self development does wonders for the confidence, so project managers should constantly be asking for feedback on what they can improve. Applying these five learnings would be a good start.

What can you change today?

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