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Today let's bust some project management myths so that you can start a project with a good mindset and ultimately get things done better!
Over the years, project management principles have been used to transform process and people, optimize talent and tools and achieve desired outcomes within the clarifying parameters of budget, quality, and time. As more companies embrace a project-based approach to value creation and goal setting, the field of project management becomes even more crucial to organizational success.
Not everything you hear about it is true, however. Managing projects already comes with a horde of challenges. Giving myths more weight than they deserve only makes it more difficult to meet project objectives. So, it's high time for some serious myth-busting.
Here are 20 commonly-held project management myths that you should immediately boot out of your system.
1. Customers are always right
In a buyer-centric economy where user experience trumps every other metric, you might easily be tempted to agree. But in project management, clients don't always know what they need. They may have strong ideas about features they prefer, but not everything they want actually delivers palpable business benefits. Worse, customers may overlook or be unaware of features that actually do. Teams should always listen to customers but should refrain from treating their every word and whim as immovable doctrine. Like every person on the team, customers can be wrong in their assumptions about products, processes, and markets. The trick is to be proactive in dealing with customers by managing their expectations, doing relevant research, and consistently providing useful (including contrarian but constructive) insight throughout the project life cycle.
2. Process is everything
At face value, project management seems to rely solely on process to move a project from start to finish. The truth is, project management is a field that does involve process but also deals with a lot of people called stakeholders. These are customers, talent, decision makers, and other individuals with varying skills and personalities who provide unique contributions aimed at the successful completion of a project. Even if an "air-tight" process is in place, a project may still encounter setbacks — and even failure at the end of the line — if there are loose ends in the people side of the equation. Without a well-coordinated team of competent and motivated professionals, even a flawless process will not be able to ensure success. This is where a project manager's people-focused soft skills can make a big difference.
3. Prioritize quickness over quality
Being prompt and on time is important in just about any undertaking. In business, timing can make or break a deal. When it comes to projects, the debate continues on which should be on top of your priority list: beat the deadline or maintain high-quality standards? The answer is trickier than everyone bargained for: it depends. When speed to market is the overriding motivation and rationale behind a project, then the trick is to set minimum acceptable standards and stick with those. Do not compromise. A shoddy product leads to a shoddy user experience and makes a project manager's credentials a tad shoddier as well. For every other case, err on the side of quality. Don't sacrifice quality just to make a deadline. It's better to manage stakeholder frustration during the project development stage than to incur the rightful indignation of everyone for a crappy user experience or error-ridden features the finished product delivers.
4. You won't succeed without project management certification
Certainly, certifications will add significant value to a project management career, and the learnings you gain in some of these programs will help you make smarter decisions moving forward. But great project managers are forged in the crucible of real-world project scenarios where they actually learn and practice how to assess business requirements, articulate project goals, lead teams, address conflicts, manage deliverables, and handle clients. Don't be discouraged when you are just starting out and lack the knowledge or practical experience to obtain a certification. Your time as part of a project management team will prove invaluable if or when you decide to pursue certification.
5. Just about anyone can successfully manage any project
Considering the scope of human potential, this sounds reasonable at first hearing. But to get it applied in the real world, some major qualifications are needed. At the very least, a person hoping to succeed as a project manager should have the right mix of emotional intelligence, technical knowledge, business acumen, discipline, and people skills to do the job right. When a person seriously lacks any of these baseline requirements, then an immediate foray into project management will just likely lead to mediocre or even disastrous outcomes.
6. Stick to the game plan at all costs
Well, you can do this until something comes up down the road. That is why there's a frequently invoked method called change management. After all, no one has foreknowledge of everything that will come up as a project transitions from one milestone to another. New stakeholders joining the project may have demonstrably better ideas of delivering a task or orchestrating customer outcomes. Technological innovation just recently introduced may render some project features still on the drawing board obsolete. New market realities may necessitate the modification or addition of new service capabilities. The list can go on and on. Amid these changes, sticking to an inflexible plan already borders on stupidity.
7. When action is at play, documentation is passe
As Agile and Lean becomes widely accepted methods in project management, the case for robust documentation gets some serious trimming. While Agile does recommend minimal documentation, some practitioners go a step further by claiming that documentation beyond those already generated by development and collaboration tools are unnecessary. Or, if it is needed at all, preparing documentation can be postponed for a later date. This is simply a bad tactic to adopt. Besides wreaking havoc on personal and team discipline, willfully ignoring the need for updated documentation erodes a key pillar in project success, traceability, and quality. Documentation also matters big time when things don't happen as planned (e.g., project failures or when a contingency plan needs to be implemented). These are reasons why even the Agile Manifesto concedes that documentation is very important.
8. Technology will solve all our problems
Project management and collaboration software such as Microsoft Project, Trello, Slack, and Asana can make a whole lot of difference in a project manager's life. But at the end of the day, these are just tools that can help us perform the heavy lifting, coordinate efforts, and accelerate workflows. The final outcome depends on the hand behind every tool at play. Top talent can deliver excellent output using the most rudimentary software. On the other hand, incompetent practitioners can make even the finest tools seem inadequate. Technology is crucial, but its potential depends on team training, adoption, and integration.
9. Project management software will bankrupt the company
Of course, it will — if you are a garage-based startup of four people trying to get hold of an enterprise-grade solution. In case you haven't peered out the window yet, the project management market is awash with vendors offering free services to small teams. There are even free alternatives to leading solutions. But even for paid or subscription-based solutions, you can rationalize tool stack budget by considering the cost benefits of the right package for your team. Better yet, avoid looking at project management software as an expense. Instead, view it as an asset and a competitive advantage. Moving ahead without the right software tools at your side makes it practically impossible to remain competitive, effective, and efficient. Remember, everyone thought the personal computer was just a novelty until every typewriter-equipped office wanted one.
10. Frequent meetings are (a) unproductive, or (b) necessary to ensure project success
These are two sides of the same coin. Some people think meetings drain their souls while others believe only meetings can generate the momentum needed to move a project forward. Both make sense up to a degree, but both also represent counterproductive myths. Some meetings — especially those that involve actionable plans, clarify accountabilities, and set strategic directions can be highly productive and motivational. On the other hand, some teams do get by with very minimal in-person, formal meetings, preferring instead the convenience of remote, informal collaborations using cloud-based communication tools. The key is to find the right balance for your team. Don't allow time-consuming meetings to unnecessarily prevent team members from focusing on their tasks. But neither should you allow team members to do their thing without gaining an adequate awareness of their role in the bigger picture.
11. It's game over if you fail
While failure is not something to aspire for, the fear of it should neither freeze a project manager's motivation to take action nor accept the risks involved in moving from point A to B. Failure is bad but it shouldn't dissuade progress, creativity, initiative, or innovation. Google is famous for introducing many world-changing innovations but behind its phenomenal achievements lies its healthy perception of failure. There are many promising but failed projects on "Google Graveyard." But what's really inspiring is the tech giant's R&D subsidiary X (The Moonshot Factory), a company where project failure is all but assured yet still accepted just to turn outlandish concepts into reality. While most projects lack the resources of Google, transforming failure into a learning experience and a platform for iteration can still generate significant value for an organization. At the very least, project managers can use early-stage failure and feedback to fine-tune product or process. They should also have a contingency plan in place.
12. Project managers must be domain experts as well
While not everyone can succeed as a project manager, project managers can still excel at their job even if they're not domain experts. For example, project managers at construction firms need not be engineers while their counterparts in software development need not be computer programmers. As mentioned, the baseline qualification is to possess the right mix of business acumen, character traits, and technical skills. With continuous training and support, qualified project managers can become highly successful and outstanding practitioners, even without domain mastery. While domain knowledge and experience certainly help, these may also generate a tunnel vision where the project manager perceives the picture from the vantage point of a particular profession — to the detriment of others.
13. Project managers must be willing to wear multiple hats
It's always great to be knowledgeable in a wide range of areas on top of your specialization. But when circumstances seem to require you to perform tasks as a web designer, an accountant, or a copywriter, then you might lose focus on being a good project manager while poorly performing as a professional wearing a different hat. As a rule of thumb, you can try wearing multiple hats, but they won't automatically match your everyday work attire. Unless you are also trained and competent in the field, it is best to focus on being an excellent project manager and just let experts do their thing in their respective domains. Of course, this advice does not refer to empathy. If wearing different hats mean stepping into other people's shoes and intuiting how they would feel in different scenarios, then go ahead, wear every hat you find.
14. Project management is non-stop paperwork
This perception somewhat echoes realities from the early days of project management where practitioners could not be parted from their beloved notebook and pen. Much has happened since then. For one thing, collaboration, productivity, and project management technologies have dramatically altered the terrain, freeing project managers from tedious tasks such as writing emails, recording meeting minutes, and preparing product/project documentation. Today, it is not uncommon for project managers to reward their team with occasional parties (especially upon successful project completions) or participate in gamified interactions to motivate their people. While many project managers still carry their notebook and pens, most use them to play around with creative ideas, prepare game plans, and formulate strategies for achieving success faster, smarter, and with more stakeholder impact.
15. You only need one project management method
There are several frameworks — including Lean, Agile, and Waterfall — and each have their pros and cons. Advocates for adopting a single method for the organization might be shortchanging their team by limiting their options and blocking the potential benefits of discarded methods. Finding the best method depends on many things such as industry, project type and complexity, required completion speed, and comprehensiveness. There is also no rule that says you can't borrow principles from multiple methods and combine these to one that fits your project goals, team composition, and workflow. In fact, the Hybrid approach is largely a combination of Agile and Waterfall principles.
16. Anything can be fixed
Alas, if this were true, we wouldn't have to count hundreds of project failures every year. Good project managers are excellent negotiators, problem solvers, and conflict resolution experts. However, 7 out of 10 projects still fail, costing billions of dollars every year. Which only means even good project managers can't — and shouldn't be expected — to fix everything. It is important for all stakeholders to accept and close dead ends in a project than to try boring a costly tunnel just to fix something that can be deprioritized for another day.
17. Never stop a project once it has started
This logically follows the previous item. If the "unfixable" thing is the project itself, then it is imperative to close it. Whether the project is unable to meet business goals or deliver the outcome it was meant to do even after several iterations, then nothing else should hold back stakeholders from proclaiming the project a failure and just learn from it. Otherwise, costs would exponentially compound while benefits diminish if the team still opts to revive a futile project.
18. Avoid conflict at all costs
Polite people and introverts generally shy away from conflicts. Doing so does not solve the conflict, but only allows it to either fizzle out or simmer and become more intense. In project management, conflicts naturally arise as project scope and complexity increases. And because people run projects, process-driven conflicts gets fired up when personalities clash as well. The trick is not to avoid conflicts but to nip them in the bud as soon as they manifest or directly address them before they become dead weights that will just bog the project down.
19. Focus on project outcomes, not the business strategy
Project managers should indeed mind the bit-level details of the projects they are handling. But this doesn't mean they should remain clueless about their company's overall strategy and organizational goals. Because project outcomes are basically envisioned to benefit the company, having a full understanding of corporate aims and strategies help project managers better align projects with the goals of the company.
20. It's all about numbers and data
Being a technical field, project management may seem overly focused on facts (e.g., who owns this task?) and numbers (e.g., how many days will it take to code this module?). However, project management is also a holistic field that provides ample room for intuition, qualitative analyses, improvisation, and perspective. When you add people to a field already defined by a high degree of probability and complexity, you'll need to extend your toolset to include more robust tools. This is the reason high emotional intelligence and soft skills are crucial traits among successful project managers. So don't get fixated with data if extensive probing and experience tell you that it just doesn't make sense.
Much excitement surrounds project management, and the field is rapidly evolving.
More and more competitive companies are heeding the call to establish their own project management offices.
Offering an average annual salary of around $90,000, project management as a career choice gets more attractive by the minute.
Project management tools are becoming more powerful, accessible, and affordable.
As the buzz intensifies, professionals hoping to succeed as project managers will need to sift an increasing number of misconceptions from actual facts on the ground. The key is to keep an open mindset while being wary of blindly adhering to myths such as those discussed above.
So explore what works and keep improving!
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