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How to Avoid Failure When You Don’t Have a Project Manager

Maria Cherkasskaya
Project Manager

What do you do?

I am a Project Manager.

And what do you do?

That’s probably the most common question I have received over the last nine years working in the IT project management field. Let me clarify what a project manager is so you can make an informed decision regarding whether you need one for your projects. As a Project Manager, my primary role is to ensure that the project proceeds within the specified timeline and under the established budget while achieving its defined objectives. Whether it’s launching a new product to the market or enhancing an existing mobile application, project managers are responsible for the success or failure of a project. In good times and bad, we push the project forward.

Probably the first thought that comes to your mind “We could just relay these messages to the team doing the work, so why do we still need a project manager?”

Imagine that the project manager is the coach of a sports team. While most of the game (project deliverables) is done by players (project team), the coach (project manager) directs and lets the players know what to do, when they need to do it, motivates them, and comes up with an overall strategy on how to win the game.

However, I completely understand that business comes with limitations, meaning you can’t always have a project manager involved. So, what do you do when the burden is on you? Here are some guidelines with minimum recommendations on how to deliver a project successfully without a project manager in the mix. I structured this information for you in the most organized way. At the end of the day, I am a professional project manager, so you couldn’t expect less from me, right?

What to do at the beginning of a project?

Understand the vision and business objectives

To avoid confusion and misalignment, it is important to communicate what any project is trying to accomplish and discuss deliverables one by one. This usually occurs during a project kick-off where all stakeholders are being introduced to each other and the project scope is understood correctly. During this time, feel free to include additional items on the agenda, such as a communication plan, potential risks or issues, what’s outside of the scope, etc.

Determine constraints

The standard “Iron Triangle” of project limitations states three constraints: time, budget, and scope. What’s important here is if you change one, it will impact another one. For example, if you would like to include more requirements in your final product, your timelines will be longer and your budget will increase. Therefore, knowing your constraints from the beginning will help to identify your priorities going forward. It varies from project to project depending on your business needs. There are also other constraints recommended by the Project Management Institute to watch out for such as quality, customer satisfaction, resourcing, risks, and benefits. While constraints should be identified in the planning phase, there should be a continuous process to plan around them.

Create high-level planning

At Indellient, we use the Agile project management framework that involves working in an iterative approach and delivering tangible value regularly. It allows for better customer satisfaction, improved quality, and faster results from the final product. I recommend working with your project team to define important milestones, consequences of project activities, and target due dates to come up with a high-level plan. It’s important to consult with doers about what would be achievable to deliver within a certain period of time. In fact, creating a high-level plan is a combined effort between all project team members. I like doing estimation sessions where each person put her/his guess of how much time it will take to complete a specific task. You will be surprised to see completely two different numbers from two people. Those type of discussions helps to bring everyone on the same page and create a more precise project plan. After that, as the project gets delivered, update this plan with more details and utilize it to manage priorities.

What to do while running a project?

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Miscommunication is the biggest culprit in project failures. Never assume that your project team knows what you know unless it’s clearly communicated and/or documented. If requirements are unclear or if changes/updates are not communicated on time, it could cause confusion and frustration. As a result, it will ultimately lead to delays or over budget. Communicate your success as you complete each milestone, but also inform the project team of problems as soon as they arise.

When I manage projects, I like to conduct daily scrum meetings (or less frequent if needed) with the project team to determine the project progress and discuss the next steps and issues/blockers. That would be the bare minimum for any project and I would strongly encourage adding status updates. It can be as formal as a weekly status meeting or as simple as an email with the most important information.

What to do at the end of a project?

Confirm project completion

Follow up with all stakeholders to review deliverables to ensure they have been completed and met based on the original agreement. In some cases, there may be a few outstanding or unresolved issues. The most dangerous phrase I could hear from my project team is “it’s almost done.” There is no such thing as “almost done.” It’s either done or it’s not.

Conduct lessons learned

The idea behind lessons learned is to repeat positive aspects and avoid mistakes in future projects. In the long run, your company will benefit from how you will run projects at your organization. Ideally, if you have a project manager, you have ongoing lessons learned sessions every time your project accomplishes important project milestones. However, since there is no project manager assigned, once the project is completed, have a meeting with your team to answer the following questions:

What went well?
What could have been improved?

Celebrate

We don’t stop to celebrate successful projects often enough. After completing a project, we move to the next one. However, completing a project is not just about completing assigned work; each member of the team also emotionally invested themselves in the completed project. That’s why you should take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments with your team to ensure everyone feels valued, motivated, and appreciated.

Lastly, I have never had a project that runs smoothly without a few bumps along the way, nor have my project manager colleagues. Scheduling delays, changes in priorities, miscommunication, resource turnover, and new risks are part of the “fun” when running a project. Take a deep breath and push the project forward in good times and bad.


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About The Author

My passion for helping people and organizing was very clear from my childhood when I was first in line to lead different types of non-curricular activities. Right now, being PMP certified and a change management practitioner as an adult, I have been involved in delivering multiple successful IT projects from developing user requirements to releasing a completed product to the market. I am also a people person! Throughout my life, I have developed the unique skill of being able to communicate with anyone at any given time. In my spare time, I love organizing events for the Russian-speaking community and connecting with local businesses through social media in Ottawa, Canada. Reach out if you would like to chat about the right strategy for transforming your business, the power of social media, especially Instagram, and time management life hacks.