By Matthew Fox

Screwing up a project is easy. Successfully managing a project? That’s hard.

Brian Saunders, CEO of BigTime Software, and Rob Richardson, Principal Geomorphologist of Rio Applied Science and Engineering, recently shared the ways they have screwed up projects. We gleaned these 5 ways to take the easy way out and screw up your next project…and 10 tips to avoid their mistakes. Enjoy!

Ignore your concerns and act like nothing’s wrong.

Ever have a gut feeling that something isn’t going the right way on a project? If not, you should. A healthy level of skepticism is practically a requirement to be a good project manager.

Could your project team be more productive?  Ignore that thought at your own risk.

Think that you and your team could be more efficient? If you pull double duty as both a project manager and a business owner, this thought probably crosses your mind often.

Tip # 1 – Integrate project management into company culture. “We’ve built (our) firm around how to effectively manage a project because that is our product.” – Rob Richardson

As small business owners, we constantly grapple with the demands of running and effectively managing workload across our organization.

Tip #2 – Share information across your project and your company. “Companies can be siloed, and a lot of (the) PM role is to make sure everyone has the information they need in front of them.” – Brian Saunders

Avoid communication with clients.

Communicating with clients can be painful and time consuming, which makes it the perfect way to screw up your next project. Your goal may be to avoid these sometimes-painful conversations. Thankfully, the tip below is a great reminder of why you should embrace these conversations.

Tip #3 – Recognize that communication begins before project kickoff. “Use it (communication) from the business development stage of outlining expectations to the proposal phase to negotiating a reasonable timeframe so expectations can be met.” – Rob Richardson

Avoiding financial discussions during a project may feel better in the moment, but lead to disaster later in a project.

Tip #4 – Communication is critical during all phases and it can make financial discussions easier. “Early conversations make it easy to adjust budget later.” – Rob Richardson

Don’t track your time.

Why should you and your team track your time? It’s tedious, it’s not a task on the project plan, and there are many other things you could be doing. Even dealing with scope creep is better than tracking time.

Tip #5 – Tracking time allows you to catch billing errors… and could increase your revenue. BigTime Software studied 12 million timesheets and found that over 35 billion dollars were lost due to billing errors. Read more here.

Maybe your team already tracks time. Do you think it’s taking time away from other work? It’s probably best to enter your time once a week. That is, if you have a photographic memory and never let a single detail, no matter how mundane, slip. (Yes, that is sarcasm.)

Tip #6 – Track your time daily. “The closer you are to the date you did the work – that time is more likely to be billable – usually about 48 hours.” – Brian Saunders

Another note from BigTime’s study – “Time entered daily produces a 1.36% higher billing realization rate than time entered 96 hours later.”

Use outdated tools (or don’t use any tools at all).

Still using pen and paper to plan your projects? Maybe you keep it casual and use the back of a napkin?  That all but guarantees you’ll screw up your next project. Tools and technology can take a little additional time to set up, manage, and upgrade. Don’t let that scare you.

Tip #7 – Use technology and personalize to the needs of your company. “We use a 14-tab Excel spreadsheet to manage our projects… It informs everything from our status reports to future proposals.” – Rob Richardson

You shouldn’t use technology to collaborate with your team. Picking up the phone or texting is much easier. Who doesn’t want to spend all day on the phone?

Tip #8 – Use document and communication tools to stay connected to your remote teams. “For things you want to collaborate on, Google Drive is easy to set up – great for managing project budgets and documentation. […] Slack we use a ton – basically an instant messaging system, it helped us eliminate email internally… and allows for spontaneous conversations.” – Brian Saunders

Don’t learn from your mistakes.

We all make mistakes, those that continue making them screw up their projects. Thankfully, there are no perfect projects, otherwise many project managers would be out of work. Tracking what goes right and what goes wrong can sometimes feel like a painful confessional, but worth the effort.

Tip #9 – Track what went well and what didn’t go well. Use those learnings to inform future projects. “Some of the biggest mistakes can be tied to arrogance or over confidence, we think we understand what our client wants or think it’s similar to another project we did and don’t do our due diligence to ask the right questions to ensure we understand client expectations.” – Rob Richardson

We all are experts in something. Typically, our clients look at us as the experts, and use that as an excuse to never ask questions. We know the client better than they do, use that at your own peril.

Tip #10 – Always ask questions and remember your client is the “expert” on their system. “We are looked at as ‘experts’ – though our clients are the experts on these systems.” – Rob Richardson

Now you have all you need to screw up your next project. Though as tempting as that sounds, I recommend embracing the tips above to make your next project the best yet.

As with any great conversation, there was only so much I could capture. As business owners, and occasional project managers, here is a great reminder from Richardson about tracking time: “Entering your time on a daily basis is representative of how you manage your project, which is representative of how you manage your business.”

I leave you with this question: How do you want to manage your business?

Matthew Fox is an experienced project manager and cybersecurity consultant. When not herding cats and making companies safer online, he is appreciating Chicago’s amazing food and architectural scenery. You can find Matthew on Linkedin.