LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

February 2024
Volume 20, Issue 2

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Note from the Author

Do You Avoid These Project Pitfalls?

Hot sun shiningWhat makes project management so incredibly challenging? 

Projects involve so many variables that the odds sometimes seem stacked against our ever being able to get everything right. Yet the consequences can turn dire if we run out of time, money, or resources.

Much of what happens during a project hinges on whether we can make accurate predictions about many different aspects from the very start.

For example, estimating how much time a project will take to complete entails navigating and juggling many factors, such as the formulaic aspects, psychological phenomena, social norms, and organizational politics — all of which make for a fairly tricky balancing act. In addition, there are numerous other ingredients to consider if were seeking to bake a successful project cake.

Can we rise above it all? Yes, by avoiding six of the most common project pitfalls, which Ive listed below. See what you think, and be sure to share your comments on my Facebook page!

Here’s to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, Ph.D., business improvement specialist, author, educator, and award-winning instructional designer

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, please visit the newsletter archive!

Special Message

How Realistic Are Your Predictions?

Risk magnetDo you excel at predicting
the time, funds, and resources your projects will require?

Whether your group decides to design a new system, launch a new training program, or overhaul your organization’s policies, all of these efforts will involve funding, planning, phases, and tasks, and potentially many human contributors.

You may have seen this phenomenon already: projects are risk magnets. Why is that? One reason is that projects typically have many dynamic aspects, and yet they are often constrained by finite conditions. These contradictory forces make it very difficult to determine with pinpoint accuracy the time and effort required. They set the stage for plenty of budget and schedule “collisions” during the life of the project!

Woman running out of timeWhen my clients or colleagues invariably ask, “How long do you think this effort might take?” I usually experience a knee-jerk reaction. Instinctively, a part of my brain that once excelled at solving math problems on timed quizzes goes into overdrive. “I know the answer!” it screams.

Yet, unless that project or task is something I’ve performed many times before — under very similar conditions each time and with good records of my actual hours spent — providing an accurate estimate can be quite elusive. As I strive to imagine all of the stages and steps of a process, as well as fathom the unknown variables or things that could go awry, it’s no wonder that I hardly ever guess 100% correctly, especially for new endeavors.

What to do? Read on for ways to boost your project management prowess!

Feature Article

Dont Be Snared by These 6 Common Project Traps
by Adele Sommers

When your enterprise decides to undertake a new endeavor — whether it’s designing a new training program, planning a new service, or revamping an existing product — this endeavor is called a project. It involves people, budgets, resources, schedules, requirements, design, development, testing, fine tuning, and deployment, plus a host of other activities.

This article (the first of a series) explains six common traps that, when not fully recognized, can lead to unpleasant surprises. This is what I’ve observed over many years as both a project manager and a participant...

1. Each project is different in some way, shape, or form from the last one.

Cookie cutterIf all your projects were exactly the same, you could simply use a cookie-cutter approach to crank ‘em out without losing any sleep at night.

Although projects may share some similarities, a new project could very easily introduce several new, unfamiliar elements that can throw off your sense of balance — often without your even realizing it until it’s too late.

If those unexpected elements manage to undermine your predictions and estimates, you may find yourself in uncharted territory that involves restrategizing your entire approach.

2. Projects are often constrained by finite conditions.

Initially, you might hear limitations such as, “We only have $1,200 and three weeks to have you complete all 18 training modules for this project.” (What? You’re thinking that based on the requirements you’ve heard so far, this project should take a year and a half and cost three hundred grand!)

Project Diamond showing 4 types of project constraintsSpeaking of constraints, it’s not unusual for project sponsors or clients to ask for:

1) low cost and
2) fast completion and
3) high quality 
4) many features
 in the final project deliverables.

Although it’s understandable to want the greatest value for the funding, unless the project is blessed with an infinite schedule and a limitless budget, tradeoffs become necessary.

Usually it’s only possible to achieve two or three out of four of these goals on a typical project. The tradeoffs might constrain the number of features, limit the quality, or both, as shown in the Project Diamond.

3. People chronically underestimate their time and effort.

ClockWhether it’s because of a perceived social stigma or a cloudy crystal ball, people typically have a difficult time deriving realistic project estimates. Given the number of project unknowns, coming up with accurate predictions can be tricky.

(Smart project managers know this and frequently add buffers derived from records of actual past experience to project bids, commonly known as “fudge factors.”)

To complicate matters, people often feel pressured to further “reduce the truth” — that is, to minimize whatever their already low calculations tell them it should take when they put together a bid.

Whenever management pushes people to underestimate this way — perhaps for fear of losing the project — the risks can easily overwhelm and even destroy the project’s success.

4. Project requirements are typically fuzzy at the beginning.

Alert symbol with glassesWhether you’re working with your staff, your boss, your colleagues, or your clients to figure out what the project should produce, whatever they say initially may sound as clear as a bell in some areas but very sketchy in others.

Getting clarification on the fuzzy parts might easily entail many conversations with many people, and much more time than anybody ever imagined. Removing that fuzziness to reach a clear, crisp agreement on what the project requirements are can prove elusive. And even if and when that occurs...

5. Requirements invariably shift over time.

Bullseye with a checkmark in the centerThe minute after you’ve cemented the requirements with everyone’s agreement, “scope creep” begins. This means that the project needs may expand, shrink, or morph into something altogether different!

These situations arise because the very act of creating something new can produce a result (or a series of results) that may exceed or differ from what people were capable of imagining at the start.

A related challenge is that even if the team initially guards against biting off more than it can chew, pressure to include “add-ons” can eventually stretch the scope beyond its limits.

6. Nearly everything else about the project is dynamic!

Roadsign showing twists and turnsAside from the requirements changing, many other things can stop, start, or fluctuate during the project.

Experienced people may leave and new people may come on board. Budgets could get chopped. Schedules might get slashed or — sometimes even worse — delayed. Resources may evaporate or not materialize in the right forms. Politics can sneak in and remove support, or require skipping critical steps such as testing. The list goes on and on.

Studies of failed projects have revealed how difficult it can be to detect all of the red flags in advance. Unbridled optimism can block everyone’s ability to see clearly. Yet turning down an iffy project may be better than letting egos rule.

What to do? As we’ve seen, projects can involve several highly dynamic variables. They often operate under firm budgets and schedules. People tend to miscalculate time, effort, and resources. Requirements frequently expand, shrink, or change. And shifting circumstances can pull the rug out from under everyone’s plans. Add these together and many projects will cook up a recipe for failure.

But you and your team can learn to avoid these project pitfalls by paying close attention to the cause-and-effect relationships among these six important keys. By avoiding these common traps, you can greatly increase your project management success. Part 2 will continue the series with the next set of tips!

Copyright 2024 Adele Sommers

The Author Recommends

The “Project Success Kit”

"Quick-Start Guide to Project Risk Management" by Adele SommersAre you looking for a compendium of ways to boost your team’s “risk management IQ”? Now you can gain “20:20 foresight” and stop unnecessary project failures due to expensive and avoidable risks.

My Project Success Kit contains a comprehensive collection of instantly downloadable “how-to” techniques that will walk you through a simple process of identifying, evaluating, and mitigating the most problematic project pitfalls using special tools, checklists, interactive worksheets, and best practices.

The kit includes a total of 126 pages of content and 2 hours of MP3 audio files. The audio segments are accompanied by complete transcripts and note-taking guides that cover each aspect of the risk management process and related topics.

About the Author

"Straight Talk" Special Report
"Straight Talk" Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of “Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance” — an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today’s issue, you’ll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It’s accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

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