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Project Managers are the Ultimate Demon Hunters – How to Combat Project Nightmares

Year-round, all projects are filled with boogeymen and ghost stories regardless of scope, industry, or timeline. While you may imagine the perils and dangers that await, it’s impossible to predict every twist and turn, creeping deadline and shape-shifting priorities you’ll encounter.

To successfully navigate the project management haunted house, the best project managers have learned from history’s best monster hunters – from Professor Val Helsing to Hellboy to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like these icons, they understand the risks, plan for the worst, keep their eye on the end result, mitigate risk when possible, and never back down from a challenge.

While their tactics differ, each monster hunter shares a similar approach. They’ve learned to identify the demons and nightmare scenarios they’re most likely to encounter. And, like Buffy wouldn’t leave home without the proper equipment, seasoned project managers have assembled their own arsenal of silver bullets to combat project demons.

To navigate the haunted house, follow this guide to the most common dangers lurking in the shadows:

  • Zombies: The problem is simple. Spreadsheets should be dead. Sure, they play a role in simple data collection and list making but your organization is far past that. In fact, zombie spreadsheets may be cannibalizing your organization–wasting valuable time and money. You wouldn’t take on a herd of zombies without the right weapons. So, why do you expect your organization to run smoothly without the proper tools?

Look for a tool that delivers project- and portfolio-level insights into resource management, project planning, and reporting. Once you reduce your organization’s dependency on spreadsheets, bury them deep.

#Protip–When killing zombies, take a lesson from the professionals. Go for the head.

  • Vampires: Along your path, these creepers – sometimes overzealous stakeholders – pop up unexpectedly ‘just to check in’. Unplanned interruptions deflate momentum, halt progress, and derail the team from doing what’s necessary to push the project forward. They suck the life out of your project.

To combat these vampires, establish clear communication channels between teams, stakeholders, and managers. Improved visibility into projects and dashboards to simplify status updates will free you from the ghouls that once haunted the hallways. In their place–productive collaboration, cooperation, and instant information exchange.

#Protip–Process and accountability are your secret weapons. Effective communication illuminates previously shadowy corners. Also the most effective vampire vaccine.

  • Skeletons: Budgets are a known demon. Yet, some are even more bare bones than others. In these scenarios, tracking and forecasting take on added importance. Use tools that work for your mobile-minded, device agnostic team – time and task data entry should be easy and ensure accuracy. Use that data in regular forecasting to stay on track. If you’re caught without the right tools, you’ll be picking up the pieces of a shattered project.

#Protip–Skeleton encounters can leave teams wary of repeating past mistakes and may prevent progress that would have benefitted the business. Face them head on instead of avoiding or burying them.

  • Frankenstein: While piecing together disparate systems may sound like a smart, efficient way to build a PMO, this experiment can quickly backfire and create a monster roadblock to business agility. Failure to connect organizational strategy and project execution leaves organizations navigating a Frankenstein’s monsterof processes and best practices without tangible results. Technology should enable, not serve as a barrier, to business transformation. Selecting the right tools is key to building an effective PMO that improves intake and uses critical data for better communication and more-informed decision making.

#Protip–Following his successful experiment, Frankenstein’s creator is consumed with guilt, despair, and regret. He dedicates his life to destroying the creature. In the end, everyone dies. Not how you want to start a Monday.

  • Ghosts: Projects create change. Change instills soulless, haunting fear. The very word casts a shadow. As champions for change, project managers risk of being haunted by ghosts of projects or stakeholders’ past. Uninformed organizations are more likely to be haunted by past failures.

Experienced project managers know–clearly communicating change, motives, and plans is the most effective way to combat fear. Without visibility into tangible and opportunity costs, organizations can’t learn from their mistakes. Portfolio-level insights prevent guessing at business value – a practice that leaves project managers wondering if they’re dealing with a shadow or a phantom of epic proportions. Transparency is key. Ghosts aren’t nearly as terrifying when you can see through them.

#Protip–Perform exorcisms often. If you don’t sort through the muck now, it’ll come back to haunt you.

Project monsters lurk year round, not just around Halloween. Jokes and creepy analogies aside, project nightmares are a true phenomenon and wreak havoc on productivity, team morale, and on-time, on-budget delivery. But it’s not a hopeless fight. Regardless of the apparitions haunting your project, knowledge and preparation are a project manager’s best weapons for survival.

Stay safe out there.

About Jean-Pierre Ullmo

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