Exploring trends and developments in project management today

Six Clichés That Make You a Better Project Manager

Duncan Haughey

Coloured letters spelling out Never Assume Anything

Clichés are funny. We don't like to hear them, but we often use them in everyday conversation. Clichés are a useful way to make a point because the meaning of them is understood universally, even if they are not always entirely accurate.

Just because something is a cliché doesn't mean it can, or should be, ignored. Here are six clichés we can use to help us become better project managers.

1. Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

We've all heard this expression. The lesson behind this cliché is that patience is a virtue at the start of your project. Don't rush straight into solution design and build before you've done the groundwork. Make sure you take the time to create a good plan, gather customer requirements, and create solid functional and technical specifications. Remember, it is plan and execute - not - execute, stop, plan and execute again.

2. It's Not Rocket Science

This modern cliché is one that I used as the title of an article about the common pitfalls of IT project management. The lesson is that project management really isn't rocket science. Projects are delivered using a clearly defined framework. The phases of a project are well documented, and once understood; provide a recognised route to project success. Take one of the many public training courses to find out how to deliver your projects successfully.

3. Manage Expectations

This favourite business cliché is trotted out countless times a day in offices throughout the land; however, it is the number one activity of a project manager. The lesson behind this cliché is that failing to manage expectations can lead to wrong assumptions and false hope. Having a good grasp of customer needs will help ensure you are working to keep your project on track, and not chasing pots of gold at the end of a rainbow. Have you managed your customers' expectations, or are they running wild?

4. Too Many Chiefs and Not Enough Indians

Although not heard much these days, this cliché was a firm favourite of my boss as a young trainee operations manager. It means there are too many managers and not enough people to do the work. You need to ask whether you have enough individuals with the appropriate skills to deliver your project successfully. Not having the right number of people, or indeed having the right number with the wrong skill mix can be a cause of project failure.

5. Keep Me in the Loop

I find that I'm in the loop for far too many things these days, many that don't concern me. However, the lesson to learn from this cliché is that stakeholder communication contributes significantly to project success. Keeping everyone well-informed (in the loop) ensures there are no nasty surprises at the end of your project. Communication problems are the hardest to resolve, as you often only see the problem when looking back. Regular communication and working closely with your stakeholders will help.

6. If You Can't Measure It, You Can't Control It

Although this cliché gets touted like a mantra in some organisations, it's true when it comes to project management. Agree on the key performance indicators and success criteria for your project up front, and check them as your project progresses. Take action early if you are failing to achieve any of your goals or performance targets. When setting your measures, remember the concept expressed by Albert Einstein, Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

Keeping these tips in mind as you manage your project will help you keep expectations in line, your project running smoothly, and move you closer to getting the result you want.

…and if your project fails? You'll probably get to - 'spend more time with your family'.

What are your favourite clichés?