Project management has a wide spectrum of effective approaches. Everything from hands-off supervision to management by walking around... And then there are the ideas that should go the way of the dinosaur — disappear in a ball of flames.
1. "Let's Manage the Project by Email"
Everyone has heard at least one project manager say: "Email me a status report." This is the old-school method of requesting project status updates. Because according to this project manager, there is no better method for reporting on what's been done and where you're roadblocked. Which, of course, means that all comments from him or her will also be sent through email. And we all know how that ends: in back-and-forth communication that is 23 emails thick, with 7 buried attachments, lost in the noise and confusion of a cluttered inbox. "When did you send that updated slide deck again? What was the subject line? I can't find it. Can you resend?"
The truth is there are better, more collaborative PM tools than email. In fact, it seems like a new one comes out almost every month. These tools transfer the bulk of your communication and status updates away from email and compile them into the PM tool, allowing projects to thrive outside the stranglehold of your inbox.
Your action: Find a better PM tool than email.
2. "Let's Have Longer Meetings"
There seems to be a prevalent idea in older generations that meetings are where the real work gets done. Ergo, longer meetings mean more work accomplished. And the more people in a meeting, the more everyone engages with what's happening in the project. Right?
David Allen, productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done, says that there are really only five reasons to have a meeting:
1. Give info
2. Get info
3. Produce options
4. Make decisions
5. Bask in the warmth of actual human contact (yay!)
A large part of every successful meeting is everyone agreeing what the objective for the meeting is. And note that Allen didn't include reason #6: Waste people's time.
The truth is, not everyone needs to be in a meeting. If someone's work is not directly affected by the agenda of a meeting, leave him to his work. Alternatively, if not everyone is needed for every discussion point, schedule the agenda so that you start with the majority of attendees and individuals can drop off once their portions are done. This motivates people to keep things short so everyone can get back to work.
Also, meetings take time -- and time is your team's most precious resource. If it's spent going over details that could have been disseminated via email, or discussing items relevant to only one person in the room, then that's a waste of everyone's time. Schedule one-on-one consultations outside of meeting times, and use a collaboration tool to monitor the status of any task so there is less reporting being done face to face.
Your action: Cut down the length of your meetings, and use a timer to enforce it!
3. "Let's Only Hire Local People to Work Onsite"
You know it all too well, this bias toward hiring people who can come into the office everyday and work with you face-to-face. Admittedly, it does make the work routine easier if you can traipse on down to a cubicle and tell your team member what needs to be revised. But here's the question: what if the skills you need CAN'T be sourced in your immediate vicinity? And if you find someone who fits the job description, speaks your language, and can do the job but lives on the other side of the world, would you hesitate to hire him due to physical barriers?
We're not in the 19th century anymore. There are advanced communication tools out there like Skype, Google Hangouts, and Facetime that allow you to chat with people remotely, with or without cameras. And once again, there are PM tools that live in the cloud, so collaboration and work can be done from any location with internet connectivity. The technology exists, so use it!
Your action: Every time you recruit for a job, consider not requiring an onsite presence. Include the line "Remote work possible *for the right candidate.*"
4. "Let's Stick to the Plan, No Matter What"
Have you ever worked under a project manager with no flexibility? It's a hell forged from the embers of micromanagement and the molten lava of ruthless dictatorship. To this kind of manager, the project plan is sacred and must be followed at all costs. Even when requirements change, team members disappear, or deadlines shift.
Unfortunately for the uncompromising manager, life never works out the way we planned. Everything is in flux and project managers need to be flexible enough to juggle priorities and resources as needed. Otherwise, by sticking to a rigid plan, companies will deliver products that customers don't even want or need.
Your action: Have a complete project plan, but be ready to change it up. Changes are not evil. They're challenges and opportunities to deliver better outcomes.
5. "Let's Describe Tasks Very Loosely and 'Wing It'"
Are there still people like this, you ask? Yes. The ones who have vague project plans. The ones who send project briefs with only a title ("Please write an eBook for our email offer") or a general deliverable ("Create a new home page design") and never provide any details. The project is not properly kicked off, and the manager never actually formalizes their deliverable expectations. Team members are left wondering what reference material should be used, or what the business objectives are, because the project manager didn't bother to write a real project brief.
Not giving a clear description of the output is just asking your team to be inefficient. Why not give them everything at the start, and then communicate with them what needs to be done before assigning it to them? Make sure you set expectations loud and clear. It boils down to efficiency and respect: give them everything they need to be efficient, and respect their time.
Your action: Complete every project brief/task description and communicate with the team BEFORE the project starts!
The way we all work is rapidly evolving. And in order to use these changes to our benefit, we should be ready to adapt how we manage our projects. Which is why these five ideas need to be put to rest. They're archaic and inefficient, and instead of bringing you closer to your goals, they end up obstructing your road to success.
Your turn: What project management ideas do YOU think should be extinct? Hit the comments and tell us.