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Project Management: A Definitive Guide To Avoiding Failure

Uh-oh. The funding you were eagerly waiting for didn’t come through, the idea fell apart or you didn’t quite win the client. And you could have sworn everything was looking so promising at the start. But often, despite our best intentions: projects fail. As a project manager or business owner you need to accept this reality and do what you can to minimise failure.

So what can you actually do?

1 – Plan for success

It might seem obvious, but the best place to start is the ideal case scenario. Once you’ve firmly fixed this vision in your mind, work backwards. An idea will always remain an idea, until there is a plan in place to support and grow it.

  • Determine your project objectives. What’s the purpose of the project? What do we hope to achieve? What constitutes project success or failure? Look at best practice in and out of your industry and set some benchmarks to aspire to. 
  • Choose your project management methodology wisely. What’s your approach going to be? Do the research and know the pros and cons of various methodologies.
  • Set your long term goals...then break them down into short-term milestones (these might be anywhere from a month to every quarter). A tried and tested method is the SMART methodology for goal setting – are your goals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound?
  • Get the right people on board. Not every project is right for every person – choosing the team with the right mix of complementary skillsets is important.

2 – Establish the right systems and processes

Without a robust project management system in place, even the most promising projects can result in inefficiencies and wasted time, resource and effort.

  • Use a powerful integrated project management software like WorkflowMax to manage your projects from end-to-end. One of the many benefits of such a package is having complete visibility over your jobs, tasks, clients, milestones so you’re always in control of what’s happening in your business. And now, with 

    WorkflowMax for iPhone 

    staying on top of your jobs is even easier. 

3 – Emphasize communication and collaboration

One of the major barriers to project success is a lack of communication between parties. Indeed, according to the Project Management Institute, ineffective communication can be attributed to 56% of failed projects. Even choosing the wrong method of communication can impede progress (the dreaded “email chains”!)

At Xero we champion open communication at all levels of the business – and make sure there is a certain level of transparency across projects and processes.

  • Champion open communication – this establishes trust, allows issues to be surfaced quickly and levels the playing field. Everyone can give their input and have a voice.
  • Choose the right tools to aid communication. Check out The Ultimate List Of Apps For Working Remotely – the mammoth list will provide a good starting point!
  • Provide training if needed. For example, WorkflowMax offers shorter education videos (WorkflowMax TV) and more in-depth online education courses depending on what level of support you need.
  • Enforce the use of the tools! Sometimes team members can be reluctant to embrace the unknown or the new. As a leader, make sure you bring everyone on board. Explain the benefit of using any new tools and perhaps even look into providing incentives to ensure everyone follows protocol.
  • Keep necessary files in a centrally accessible place. Think creative assets, guidelines and the almighty brief. Try using Adobe Bridge – a digital asset management that simplifies your workflow and keeps you organized – or cloud file sharing and storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox. You can also collaborate with other users and share a folder or library from your Creative Cloud account itself.  
  • Encourage regular updates on progress. Whether it’s holding weekly meetings or daily huddles, get in the habit of promoting regular updates in your team.
  • Emphasize working together to achieve outcomes. After all, two heads are better than one! Some apps that help with this when distance is an issue: Mural.ly, Thoughtflow and Sketch.

4 – Lead and inspire

The role of a leader is to “set the bar, inspire, and motivate your team to reach greatness” (Entrepreneur.com). You might even have selected the best team for the job, but unless there is a clear direction for them to progress and unless they’re clear on their individual roles – there is likely to be confusion and indecision clouding the project’s progress.

  • Be available. One of the biggest challenges when I worked in the agency was the increasing absence of senior management – whether it was scheduling conflicts or client meetings which gobbled up the majority of “working time” – the result was stalled or sub-standard work and disconnected staff. Make sure people know where to find you. For example, can they “ping” you on Google Hangouts if they need something? Or message you on Yammer, tweet at you or email? Perhaps you just have an open door policy or make time for 15 minutes at the start and end of every day. Whatever works for you – make sure your team knows you’re there.  
  • Assign ownership as early as possible. Let people have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This will lessen the burden on your own shoulders as well.
  • Don’t micro-manage your team. People respond to autonomy and respect – so give it to them. 

5 – Set realistic timeframes

We all want to win that client over and keep them in our favour by doing what pleases them. But in our eagerness to sign the deal, we often end up over-promising and under-delivering. Remember that all-nighter you pulled and the substandard work that resulted? Hmm, maybe don’t do that again.

I read a great quote from Marketing guru Seth Godin the other day:

“Do people really care if you deliver something on Monday morning instead of Friday afternoon? The answer is that yes, they care very much if you don't let them know. If you let them know that you will deliver it Monday instead of Friday, then in 99% of cases, they could care less...So long as the communication is strong, the actual dates rarely matter.”

This illustrates that once again, communication is key.

  • Closely manage those milestones you set up (it’s super easy to stay on top of your workflow and priorities with WorkflowMax for iOS) so you know whether you’re on track.
  • Communicate early and often. What’s your resource capacity looking like? Being open and honest right from the start not only ensures there’s a robust working relationship in place but that you can manage any roadblocks smoothly and efficiently.

So there you have it – follow the steps above to ensure a smooth project management workflow every time. Do you have any tips we missed? We’d love to hear what works for you!


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Mallika Goel
Mallika Goel is the communications manager at WorkflowMax, fresh from the agency world. She brings with her four years of experience working with some of New Zealand’s largest brands as well as more boutique ones. She thinks life’s too short to do one thing, so she keeps herself busy pursuing her many interests: an obsessive love of writing/blogging, fitness, travelling and design.

Mallika Goel