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How to avoid project management pitfalls: Five dos and don'ts

Michelle LaBrosse
Michelle LaBrosse, Founder,
Cheetah Learning

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Even the most experienced project managers can get burned by common project management pitfalls. Read on for five dos and don'ts for smart project managers.

Remember The Jetsons? It's funny how many of those computer-driven inventions are actually available now -- a robot that vacuums, a mini TV you can watch anywhere, even video conference calls.

It's also interesting how much remained intact in whatever future year they were living in. Despite George Jetson's morning routine of being dressed and taken to work by robots, he was still human. He felt frustrated when the boss asked him to work late, stressed when he had to stay ahead of competitors, guilty about not being home enough to help with the kids or Astro, the dog.

So what does this all have to do with software project management?

Robots and computers will certainly replace the need for humans to perform certain activities. However, human beings and their human nature will still be around to guide the computers, and with that process come projects with a beginning, a middle and an end.

People will still feel stress when trying to keep up with the competition and reach business goals. Employees will always feel that there aren't enough hours in the day and their personal time is being eaten away by work time. They will always find gratification from doing a great job at work and at home.

To feel that sense of accomplishment, we have to pause long enough to set up our projects correctly so they are built for speed and efficacy. This means thinking about what is required to be successful, as well as the common project management pitfalls that can keep a software project far from completion.

No matter how successful or experienced we are, the things that trip us up are often common problems we're aware of, but forget about when we get busy. Here are some basic dos and don'ts to help you avoid the most common project clogs.

Don't fall victim to feature creep

Some people enjoy a great challenge and are perfectionists at heart. There's one in every crowd. But the mantra "We can make it better" can turn into a disease if the project lives in limbo instead of moving toward completion.

If time permits a bit of tinkering to be done, be sure to put an end date on it. After that, any great ideas should be recorded for future projects of similar nature. Most importantly, finish what you are doing so you can remain on time and within budget.

Do keep multitasking at bay

People have gotten awfully comfortable with multitasking. We are able to talk on our cell, send an email, pick up a coffee and cross the street without being hit by a car. That doesn't mean we're efficiently getting things done. If your attention is being divided between different checkpoints on your to-do list, then none of them are getting the proper attention they deserve.

People work best when they work on one task to its completion and do not juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. If you have no choice but to work on multiple projects, your best bet is to set aside blocks of time to focus on one task at a time.

Don't overschedule people's time

We all need to take care of our basic living needs, such as dentist appointments, banking and so on. We also have a need for socialization, connection with family, and time to relax and unwind.

If people aren't given the respect and flexibility to take care of those things during business hours, chances are their focus will become clouded as their personal to-do list merges with their work to-do list.

Marathon work days or work weeks are OK from time to time, but be sure to communicate what is expected and how you'll reimburse staff for the hours of their personal lives that are cut into to complete a project for work.

Do eat to succeed

Are you thinking, What does this have to do with the world of computer software? It all comes back to stress management. Eating well and exercising contribute to a sharper mind, better focus and the ability to plow through your project.

The less attention you pay to your body, the more your mind will suffer, so pay attention to what you're eating. It's not complex -- just a matter of focusing on the good guys and staying away from the bad guys.

Good guys

Bad guys

Fruits and vegetables

Coffee

100% organic juices

Soda (even diet)

Complex carbohydrates (multigrain breads, fruits and vegetables, legumes)

The white culprits (pastries, potatoes, white rice, white bread)

Protein -- keep it lean and you won't be mean!

Candy and sugar

Water

Alcohol

Balance Bars or meal replacement bars

Do move and breathe

If you want to achieve your full potential, you need to spend at least a half-hour per day exercising -- an hour is even better. Walking, swimming and hiking all count toward providing your body with the movement it deserves. Of course, if you don't already have an exercise routine, check with your doctor before you start one.

The way you breathe can put your mind into a state of peak performance. In the Cheetah PMP class, we teach a breathing technique called alternate nostril breathing. To do this, use your thumb to close one nostril and then exhale. Inhale, hold that breath, release that thumb and use your middle finger to close the other nostril. Exhale and repeat alternating between the two nostrils.

Into the future

We certainly are closer to that "push button era" of the Jetsons, but we'll always need to be there to push the right button at the right time. If the plan is mapped out and we understand which buttons to push and when, we'll be in great shape. Using project mangement to remain focused, relaxed and in the right state of mind to perform tasks and complete projects, we can continue moving into the future at light speed.


About the author: Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and project management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into a market leader for project management training and professional development. Additionally, the Project Management Institute selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, one of only two women selected from the training and education industry.


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