Project Management: Moving at the Speed of Backwards

You’ve received a mandate from your boss and you’re raring to go. But instead of bursting out of the gate, you’re left spinning your wheels; you’re at the mercy of variables that are often beyond your control. Although there are many causes for getting bogged down on a project, most of the snags typically fall into a few broad buckets:

Poor project planning. Organizations usually fall into one of three camps when it comes to project planning: 1) throw an idea against the wall and see if it sticks; 2) analyze the heck out of an idea or competitor to the point where you end up spending more time around planning and metrics than you do designing and implementing the idea; 3) the hybrid—a pinch of throwing the idea against the wall and a dash of overanalyzing it. In an ideal world, you can develop a rapid and thoughtful prototype, get everyone to sign off on it, test the idea during a soft launch, and then roll it out.

Diverging senses of urgency. When you’re the point person on the project, it’s up to you to prod those who are unresponsive and to do so in a way that won’t hurt their feelings. This can be particularly difficult when you’re part of an organization that doesn’t share your same sense of urgency. To keep people on task, establish clearly defined milestones and checkpoints. Aggressive timelines can be more manageable if they are communicated up front.

Over-collaboration. You want to make sure you involve every possible stakeholder because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. As a result, you get bogged down with meeting times, communicating updates, and repeated attempts consensus building. Don’t get me wrong, collaboration definitely has its advantages, but sometimes you just need to put your head down and run with it—especially if those around you aren’t working at the same pace.

Lack of responsiveness. Anyone who has ever been within ear shot of me will tell you this is definitely one of my biggest (if not the biggest) pet peeves. There’s no bigger time burner than having to follow up with multiple voicemails or emails to get the information you need. I’m not sure what happened to professional courtesy, but over the years I’ve wasted countless hours following up with people when I could have been spending that time on something, anything, more productive.

When you’re ultimately responsible for a project, you are often at the mercy of a myriad of variables that are outside of your control. By avoiding and/or addressing the common pitfalls mentioned above, you can focus more time on the deliverables and less time spinning your wheels.

What bogs you down on projects? And how do you push through?

Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (