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VI. Manage Your Projects

Managing your projects and keeping them all on track is the majority of the work that a project manager handles. It is a combination of monitoring a hundred moving parts, shepherding every task through the right process, and mitigating problems and risks — all while managing the expectations of your stakeholders and holding off the inevitable scope creep.

Manage your projects

Below are strategies for tackling different aspects of your projects from managing project risk to minimizing scope creep to building healthy relationships with your project stakeholders.

1. How to Manage Project Risk
2. How to Manage Scope Creep
3. How to Manage Stakeholders

1. How to Manage Project Risk

A. What is Project Risk?

Risk is any unexpected event that might affect your project for better or for worse. Risk can affect anything: people, processes, technology, and resources.

Note that there is a difference between risks and issues. Issues are certain — these are things you know you will deal with. Sometimes you may even know when these will pop up, i.e.: scheduled PTO, or seasonal spikes in demand.

On the other hand, risks are events that might happen, and you may not be able to tell when. (Surprise! A key product component is on backorder and will arrive a week late.) Because of this uncertainty, project risk requires serious preparation in order to manage them efficiently.

B. 5 Parts of Project Risk

Project management risks can be broken down into five parts:

  • Risk event: What might happen to affect your project?
  • Risk timeframe: When is it likely to happen?
  • Probability: What’s are the chances of it happening?
  • Impact: What’s the expected outcome? Factors: What events might forewarn or trigger the risk event?

C. How to Assess Project Risk

The first thing you need to do a proper risk assessment is to create a risk register. This is a document that will help you gain a clearer picture of the potential risks your project may face. Here’s how to build it:

  • Step 1: Identify all potential risks.
    Get out your preferred note-taking tool (task, spreadsheet, notebook paper) and list every possible project risk you can think of. Ask your project team to help you brainstorm during the project planning process, since they might see possibilities that you don’t.Need someplace to start? Here is a list of 130 of the most common project risks.Other factors to include in your risk register:

    • Trigger: An event that signals a risk is about to happen —or has already happened.
    • Risk Owner: A team member assigned to watch for trigger events, and determine what steps should be taken if one pops up.
    • Risk Response: What’s the most effective action if the risk happens. What will your team do, and who’s responsible for what? Make sure you’ve thought each piece through and everyone on your team knows the plan.
  • Step 2: Rate the probability (0-10).
    Create a new column on your list. What are the odds a listed risk will happen? Rate each risk on a scale of 0 to 10 based on the probability of it happening.For example: executives failing to support the project might be a 5 (medium probability) whereas an act of nature totally wiping out your servers in Switzerland would be a 1 (low probability risk).
  • Step 3: Rate the impact (0 to 10).
    Make another column to estimate the amount of damage the foreseen risk would cause. What would happen to your project outcome? Would your final delivery date get pushed back? Would you go over budget? Rate each risk from 0 to 10 to determine the amount of negative effect these could have on your project outcomes.
  • Step 4: Calculate the risk score (probability x impact).
    Multiply the first two numbers together to get your risk score. Now, filter your view to rank these risks according to their risk score.

D. Tips on Managing Project Risk

  • Determine “Risk Tolerance.”
    How much risk can you take on before you consider abandoning a project? This is an essential conversation to have with your stakeholders. Decide on: whether they want to be informed when risks happen? Or whether you have authority to act immediately. Agree on the strategy and the response.
  • Use a Risk Matrix to Decide Which Risks to Manage.
    Some risks are so low-impact that they aren’t worth your time. In order to be efficient, decide which risks to manage. For example, if a risk has a high probability of occurring, but impact is low (say it would add $200 to your project costs and your budget is $50 million) you may choose to ignore it if counteracting the risk is an inefficient use of your time and resources. You can use a risk matrix tool as a way to visualize which risks to manage.

    A sample Risk Matrix chart
    A sample Risk Matrix chart.
  • Evaluate Your Risk Management After Every Project.
    At the end of your project, step back and consider which parts of your strategy were successful. How effective were your triggers in forewarning risks? How effectively did you react to those triggers, and were you able to successfully prevent any risks from affecting the project outcomes? What could be improved for the next project?

Further Reading:

2. How to Manage Scope Creep

A. What is Scope Creep?

Scope creep (also known as “requirement creep” and “feature creep”) refers to how a project’s requirements (features, schedules, deliverables) tend to grow and add-on uncontrollably — often dictated by project stakeholders or internal miscommunication, causing a Frankenstein-like mashup of features that didn’t exist during the planning stage. And this creeping growth often delays a project or its deliverables.

B. How Does Scope Creep Occur?

There are several ways scope creep can arise and derail a project:

  • Vague documentation.
    When there is a lack of a clearly-defined and controlled project scope, the scope will mutate. Once you’re into the game, stakeholders may choose to define your project more loosely than you originally envisioned and add those extra requirements you didn’t work into the original project schedule.

    Your Action: The Project Scope Statement that goes into the Project Initiation Document is where you should lay out all project boundaries. Spend time concretizing it so that all expectations are met and controlled, and your stakeholders comprehend exactly what they’ll get at the end of the process.

  • Lack of an established change management process.
    With a proper change management process in place, you will help stakeholders and users understand the positive impact of the change that your project or new process will bring, and people will be held accountable for their role in the change.

    Your Action: Have a change committee in place with a full-bodied change management process ready to go.

  • Lack of leadership.
    Stakeholders and clients sometimes (purposely or accidentally) allow their personal agendas to detract from the main project objective. And a lack of strong leadership in the face of these obstacles will inflate the project’s scope.

    Your Action: Keep to the main objective and don’t let stakeholders distract the team. Stand your ground if extra demands are beginning to expand the project scope. Communicate strong confidence and leadership in your words and body language during meetings; and if your meetings are virtual, keep these virtual communication tips in mind.

  • Differing stakeholder opinions.
    Too many cooks spoil the broth, as the adage goes. While stakeholders may all want the same end product, their motivations may vary wildly. And those motivations will affect what they feel should be prioritized during project development, which can wildly alter your timelines.

    Your Action: Limit your influential stakeholders to only those that need to be involved. When discussing project changes, determine their individual motivations so you can arrive at a common ground. If it makes sense, after-the-fact requests from stakeholders can be parlayed into a future project after the current goals have been met.

  • 11th-hour feedback.
    If you don’t involve all the important stakeholders from the beginning of the process, their important feedback might come near the end of a project, which often adds to your list of action items. Instant scope creep. Remember to include your end-users or customers early on, and take the costly mistakes of the Denver International Airport project as a fair warning not to involve people late in the game.

    Your Action: Make sure you collaborate with customers early and often, to avoid delivering something they don’t need or want. Keep communication lines throughout the project open so ideas and feedback keep flowing.

C. 4 Steps to Managing Scope Creep

When an item that might cause potential scope creep is identified, you need to manage it before it can affect the project in a negative way. Follow these four steps to properly assess and act on it:

  • Check the Statement of Work (SOW):
    See if the item is in the list of deliverables in your project’s Statement Of Work. Is this request part of the original deliverables? Was it explicitly stated in the SOW?
  • Determine impact.
    Figure out the impact that the item will have on your project as well as your organization’s business.
  • Estimate cost.
    Determine the additional cost it will take to include the item as part of the project deliverable.
  • Present to the change committee.
    If indeed the item is scope creep, it must be presented to the people responsible for change, as determined by your change management process — the project change committee. Present the impact and estimated cost of the item. The change committee can decide whether to reject the item or approve adding it to your project (and potentially lengthening your timeline) after they have the full context of the request.

Further Reading:

3. How to Manage Stakeholders

Stakeholders are those with any interest in your project’s outcome. They are typically the project team themselves, team managers, executives, project sponsors, customers, and users. Stakeholders are those who will be affected by your project at any point along the way, and their input can directly impact your project’s outcome.

A. 9 Tips for Effective Stakeholder Management

Managing stakeholders means managing relationships, which is always a tricky thing. It requires tact an constant communication. Here is a SlideShare presentation of our best tips and strategies for effective stakeholder management:

B. How to Deal with Difficult Stakeholders

Inevitably, you may have to deal with a stakeholder who is difficult, someone whose opinions and agendas may negatively impact the project. How do you go about managing that kind of relationship?

An important thing to remember is that stakeholders always want the project to succeed. That means that if they change their mind on what that will take, their stance on certain items may change during the course of the project. You’ll probably be frustrated, but they are not “switching sides” — everyone is on the side of project success, not us vs. them. (If that’s not the case, you have bigger problems to address.) Don’t take resistance personally, and remember that business is business. No matter what, you cannot burn bridges and dismiss difficult people just because they’re blocking your work from getting done faster. You will have to find a way to work with them and defuse the situation.

Next time you’re dealing with difficult stakeholders, take a few deep, calming breaths and remember these tips:

  • Identify the difficult people and watch them closely. If you’re keeping a special watch for your stakeholders’ messages or comments regarding the latest status updates, you’ll know when the tide is turning. Ensuring communication channels are always open may even serve to head off some possible negativity.
  • Listen to what they’re saying. Don’t close off communication just because you don’t like what you’re hearing. Listen and try to better understand their motivation and goals. Knowing that you fully heard them out will reassure all parties when you’re trying to find a solution together.
  • Think from their point of view. If what they’re saying is frustrating, ask yourself: are their needs hindering your project’s objectives? Do they just want things done a different way? Try to see where they’re coming from and put yourself in their shoes. See if you can meet on common ground.
  • Determine their motivations. The only way to come to a solution or even just to contain the situation is to figure out what’s causing their sudden resistance. Are they worried about going over the budget? Anxious that the project isn’t turning out exactly as they envisioned it? Are they answering to a board of directors, who may have a different point of view on the project? If you can help address the underlying motivations behind their resistance you might be able to create a win/win situation and continue moving forward passed the difficulties.
  • Meet them 1-on-1. Find a way to meet with difficult stakeholders individually so they don’t feel like they’re being put on the spot with other colleagues looking on. Neutral ground might help take them off the defensive so you can communicate calmly. Go into the meeting with an open mind. It’s important to take this time to completely listen to their viewpoint and their proposed solutions to the problem they see. Note: don’t just ask why they aren’t supportive of your plan. Instead, ask an open-ended question about their opinion and how they feel the project is coming along to get their honest feedback.

Further Reading:

Now that we’ve discussed these tips on managing risk, scope, and stakeholders, you might be asking: where can I find more resources regarding project management?

Well head to our next section where we give you links to online training, project management books, and even inspirational leadership lessons. Basically, all the resources you need to take a deeper dive into the topics you care about.

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