Ten project management mistakes EMs make: Part 1

Part 1 of 2 reviewing the first 5 project management mistakes EMs often make.

New and experienced engineering leaders alike are prone to make mistakes. This and next week I’m going to highlight ten total mistakes EMs commonly make when it comes to project management, their risks, and how to avoid them. This may not seem like rocket science (because it’s not!) but as I said at the outset, even the most experienced EMs, myself included, can use this reminder.

1. Poor Communication

Whether you're balancing a lot of projects at once or you're just generally not that great of a communicator (it's okay, it's not a natural skill for a lot of people), poor communication can lead to confusion around timelines direction on the work that needs to be done and just conflict in general. The biggest risks to poor communication when it comes to product management is not getting an important product out on time or knowing it's going to take longer than the original deadline but not appropriately communicating that with key stakeholders.

Solution: Don’t skip your regular check-ins, keep channels of communication open (and encourage your team to discuss a project in an open channel, not in DMs), and keep detailed project documentation and updates so you can refer back to changes made and risks identified along the way. Don’t shy away from addressing a concern up front even if it’s a difficult situation.

2. Scope Creep

I think we've all been a victim of scope creep at some point in our careers when it comes to getting a product out on time. It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of scope if you're not keeping a very tight rein on the project scope. There are times when you're going to find additional items that need to be addressed but, connecting this back to poor communication, if you don't address these immediately and work with your Product Manager or other stakeholder to determine whether or not this is an item that needs to be addressed now or can be pushed to post-launch, that's when you start to run into issues.

Solution: Clearly define the project scope at the beginning and implement a change control process. Any change requests should be evaluated for impact on timelines and resources before approval.

3. Inadequate Planning

I have often seen in more junior engineers and early-stage EMs that they tend to jump right into delivering on a project without actually taking the time to plan accordingly. When you jump into execution without a detailed plan you end up overlooking details and cause last minute chaos. When you're working against a tight deadline or you're just generally really excited about working on a project it can be easy to forego process and jump right in, but I encourage you to think twice before doing this.

Solution: Spend adequate time on project planning. Break down tasks with estimates, ensure you have the right resources on hand, and create a timeline. Make sure everyone’s on the same page by reviewing these details during a project kickoff call.

4. Ignoring Risks

It's all too easy to say, “that's a problem for tomorrow” but we all know that tomorrow's problems end up being today's problems at some point. When you ignore risks you or your team have identified you will have to address them eventually, so it's better just to get ahead and address them as they come up. You don't want to find out that the solution you've spent three months building is actually not going to support scaling from 100 customers to 1000 customers and now you actually need to spend even more time rebuilding all of it in a rush instead of working on new initiatives. Unmitigated risks create tech debt.

Solution: If you or your team have a feeling that something could go awry or slow you down, treat that as a risk and address it during your next sync.

5. Micromanaging

I don't know the technical acumen of your team, but I do want to believe they're on your team because you believe that they can do great work. The fastest way to stifling creativity and lowering morale on your team is to hover over them and dictate every small task. Getting involved on key projects is absolutely fine especially when the stakes are high, but trust your team to know how to deliver a great product. There's always time for feedback during and after the project is complete.

Solution: First and foremost: TRUST YOUR TEAM! Delegate tasks effectively. Focus on outcomes and broader processes; that is, focus on enabling your team to deliver great work. There’s a big difference between creating process for ensuring a project is on track and telling your team how they need to complete every small task within a project.

Check out part 2 here.

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