From time to time, I like to share some lessons learned from current projects. We are in the middle of product development for a medical device startup project and have plenty of recent lessons learned to share.
In no particular order—
Dates Are Wrong
We all know this. Yet there is also a compelling need to drive towards completion of tasks. Does having a due date help or hurt? I can find plenty of people to support either argument. I don’t like dates anymore than the next person. But at the same time, my opinion is that without a target date for completing a task, a task could linger.
Of course if you are surrounding with people who are checklist oriented, accountable, and driven towards getting things done, dates probably don’t matter all that much.
However, I have rarely been involved with any initiative of any kind where all people involved were wired in this fashion. Because of this, dates are a necessary evil.
A trick as a project manager is to figure out each person’s buffer. I often refer to this as a “fudge factor” (I know this term was ingrained in my brain somewhere along the way; I just can’t remember when or where). What I mean by this is in my experience, when prompted to provide a date, most people will give you a best case scenario response. The challenge is to figure out how far off their best case is from reality. You won’t learn this initially. You will have to let the person give you false information a time or two first to establish their particular fudge factor.
Hierarchy & Order Are Important
What I mean by this is that it is important to have a process in place and to follow the process. I think this is especially true when startups are mostly virtual and rely heavily on suppliers. Some suppliers may have process in place. Others may not. To complicate it further, each supplier might have a slightly different process too. In all cases, it is important to establish at the beginning what process will be followed. It is important to outline and identify the specific deliverables, along with when each of these deliverables is to be accomplished.
Scope Creep Will Happen
Despite your best efforts, scope creep will happen on every project. To expect that you can clearly and completely articulate, communicate, and establish a scope of work at the beginning of a project and that this will not change as the project progresses is unrealistic.
Rather than resist scope creep, figure out how you can manage it. The most challenging scope creep issues pertain to the expectation that the budget and timeline won’t change. Scope creep, more than likely, will affect both budget and timeline. When a scope change is suggested, take a moment to evaluate what this means to the project and communicate this to the stakeholders.
Double Check Always
You would think I would have learned after the first few times a resource told me a task was done only to find out otherwise that I would have started double checking sooner. I mean, come on, I’m working with adults, right? When someone tells me they got something done, I should expect that it is done. Yes, that statement is true. However, it’s also true that people don’t always complete what they say they’ve done. I think this is because the person expects they will get the task done before you actually find out.
I now will do my best to always double check and to get objective evidence that a task is done.
Have a Back Up Plan Brewing
You never know when you will need a back up plan. I can tell you from experience numerous times on this project that developing a back up plan after it’s already needed is not fun. Yes, I want to trust all the resources I’m working with. However, this project has taught me that I always need to have a back plan in the works, just in case.