#1: Not Communicating When Things Get Difficult
It’s tempting for us to take pride and remain silent when things become hard. It’s part of human nature to feel uncomfortable about having conflict-ridden conversations. But, when we choose silence over resolving problems, new problems just continue to build up over time. This tends to snowball—and at some point, you’ll have to stop everything you’re doing and try to fix the problem by digging back through layers of misunderstandings and assumptions. You’ve created a big, show-stopping problem, which means you’re not applying your resources to your current priorities. Today, there are no many effective, easy-to-learn project communication tools —these help you and your team exchange updates, indicate their progress on a task, share files in a central location, and so much more. There’s really no excuse for lack of communication anymore!
#2: Skipping the Process Because Something Seems Small
This is the developer’s kryptonite. You wouldn’t believe the speed with which a small part of code, or a bit of info, turns into a nightmare. Checking small details is the key to a successful project—because even the tiny details are part of your process, which is the vessel for your business strategy.Tending to small events and pieces of data is the first step toward a well-organized team. Your process can feel like an abstract concept—but you can easily create processes with concrete, visible, trackable steps. Do you use workflow management software to map out your next steps and dependencies? These tools provide a great framework for laying out and assessing your processes at work.
#3: Assuming “No News is Good News”
Radio silence can mean that everything’s good. But just because you’re not getting any urgent “red flag!” updates, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is going according to plan. For example, sometimes a client won’t know how or when to bring up a request, or they don’t provide feedback because they haven’t received any notifications prompting them to do so.
Keep the lines of communication open—ask for approval and sign-offs on every milestone, and make sure you’re regularly eliciting updates from team members, clients, etc. Especially in the case of creative agencies or marketing agencies, you need to be in close, constant contact with your clients as you go through rounds of feedback on content and design. You can do this through conventional phone and email, but there’s also lots of collaboration software out there with a built-in client portal. This enables the client to independently access certain project data, view files, and provide approvals, which means that you’ve got the latest updates, questions, and comments from your clients all in one place.
#4: Treating Everything As “High Priority”
We’ve all heard the story about the boy who cried Wolf! . The moral is clear: not everything is urgent, and not everything is important. We should especially careful not to use those terms interchangeably. It’s common for things that grab our attention to take priority over other tasks, whether they’re important or not. Their urgency makes them feel important. This happens with incoming phone calls or an angry email from a client. If we’re not careful, we’ll spend our entire day running around filling ad hoc requests, skipping the strategic types of tasks that matter for our organization’s culture and success. You can start to prioritize effectively by asking yourself these 3 simple questions:
1) What are my highest value activities, and where is my attention most needed and useful?
2) What can I, and only I, do to make a real difference in this project?
3) What is the most valuable use of my time in this moment?
Everyone would love to have enough budget and human resources to complete every little task to the highest standard, but in the real world, it’s not possible. Resources are limited, and you have to prioritize the most important parts of your project.
#5 Glossing Over Contingencies
A lot of projects fail because no one has taken the time to identify the risks inherent to the project—the assumptions you’re making, the dependencies between tasks, etc. Don’t let these issues sit quietly beneath the surface—clearly illustrate the risks and the relationship between tasks. Make it visible and concrete to show clients while discussing what they’ll need to provide, by when, and why. Think about what could go wrong in the current project, brainstorm a list of contingencies that could delay your project or require additional budget, and make these contingencies explicit to everyone concerned (clients, team members, stakeholders) before they ambush you. Use project planning software and to make a plan that will automatically factor in contingencies for you when you make inevitable changes down the road!
Whether your team encounters communication or prioritization problems, there are means and tools to alleviate the stress, and prevent damage. The most common toxic behaviors that you should watch out for are:
- Not communicating when things get difficult
- Skipping the process because something seems small
- Assuming “no new is good news”
- Treating everything as high priority
- Glossing over contingencies
Yes, projects fail. However, you can increase your odds for success by rising to the challenge with proper tools and the will to be a champion of change.