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By David Goebel, Missouri Enterprise Project Manager

I’ve worked in manufacturing for over 38 years. As a manufacturing engineer with Emerson Electric, I spent a considerable amount of time managing multi-million-dollar, new product introduction projects. As a consultant, I now work with clients managing process improvement projects.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what makes projects successful and what makes them fail. How are your projects going? Are they raging successes or, do your managers struggle to get them completed on-time and on-budget? Please read on and consider the following points when assessing the condition of your project management system.

Ensure that your projects support your organization’s vision.

Does your organization have a clear vision for the future? Are your major projects aligned with your vision? Is it possible that you’ve commissioned valuable resources to work on projects that really won’t get you where you need to be? Major projects should be tied to the strategic objectives of the organization.

While we may be required on occasion to take on unexpected projects, such as safety issues or environmental problems, we should limit major projects to those that keep the ship sailing in the right direction.  Take an inventory of your active projects and honestly assess which ones really need to be implemented and those which can be delayed or eliminated.

Always provide clear objectives.  

There is nothing more frustrating than to keep shooting at a moving target. Project teams can spin their collective wheels with little or no results due to ineffective project definition. As with all communication, consider the message that you want to deliver and plan the delivery.

Are you certain that you understand the situation? How will you ensure that the message you deliver accurately conveys your intent? What tone will you use? What words will you choose? How can you be sure that the message is delivered in such a way that there is no misunderstanding? Consider these points and do everything humanly possible to deliver an effective message enabling your team to get off on the right foot.  

Stress quality of projects over quantity.

A manager at a client’s facility made the comment that “we spend more time managing the list of projects than we spend in working on the projects themselves”. As I recall, this company had around 40 active projects at the time. I can’t say that I fully understood the magnitude of each and every project, however, this is way too much work going on at one time.

Obviously, larger companies can handle greater workloads than smaller concerns, however, be sure that you’re not asking too much of your resources. Are your managers capable of handling the number of projects on their plates? Are they in over their heads? Are they truly spending more time amending the master project list than working on the projects? If so, expect substandard results and dissatisfaction among the troops.

Don’t kill the messenger.

Along with death and taxes, there is another certainty in life. That is, if you’re managing a major project and you don’t hit a few snags, you either have no idea what’s going on or you’re telling stories.

With this in mind, please do not kill the messenger. Knowing that all projects hit a few bumps along the way, provide a reporting environment in which your project managers feel comfortable in reporting their progress, good or bad. Provide assistance in dealing with the unexpected. No one comes to work wanting to do a bad job and your project managers are no different.

Help them out and learn from the bumps in the road. Remember, your job is to facilitate the success of those that report to you. If your project managers are unsuccessful, it may be because you failed to do your job.

In summary, review your projects to be sure that they align with the company’s vision. Clearly communicate your project goals and stress doing a great job on a few projects rather than a lousy job on a bunch of projects.

And finally, recognize that bad news is inevitable. Expect it and deal with it professionally in a supportive manner. You’ll reap the benefits and you’ll be surprised at the improvement in the attitudes and output of your project managers.