The ability to anticipate potential project problems has tremendous value for project managers. Alpha project managers are known to put substantially more time into the Planning phase and less time in the Monitoring and Controlling phase. Anticipation of potential project problems during the Planning phase will help alleviate time spent reaction to future problems. Here are two tricks to help build your ability to anticipate.
Read and Re-Read
Miscommunication is a daily risk in the modern age of online communication. The proliferation of e-mail, text, and social media has elevated the skill of written communication from the infrequent 5-paragraph essay to a daily string of frequent short communications. If we are not careful, it can be very easy to formulate a written message that fails to accurately present our intended message.
A simple method to avoid this problem is to read messages multiple times. When reading, concentrate on identifying wording or phrases that could be interpreted in multiple ways. Avoid ‘assumptions’ that everyone who reads an ambiguous message will correctly and unanimously interpret its meaning.
Forget what you Know
Knowledge is certainly both necessary and beneficial to project success. There are some circumstances, however, in which it can be a hindrance. When planning a project, it is reasonable to assume the project team members have average to substantial knowledge about projects in which they are involved. This can place the project team at a disadvantage when attempting to anticipate the actions of end users who do not have the same knowledge. It is simple to follow the proper rules when you already know what they are. Here is a difficult but incredibly useful mental trick that can help illuminate potential problem points before they occur.
Project teams must look at every project from the viewpoint of an end user with no knowledge of the product, process, or expectations. There are several ways to do this. First, the project team may recruit a practice end user to test the product. The disadvantage to this approach is that you will only have the functional perspective of a single individual. If possible, seek the input of a wide variety of end users to gain a better perspective of potential miscommunication.
If an incremental beta test approach with end users is not possible, then you will have to perform this test yourself of have project team members do so. As you look at a specific step or action, ask “Is there only one way to do this?” If the answer is ‘no,’ then you have the potential for user error.
The art of anticipation is a skill that can be developed over time with concentrated effort and is crucial to long-term success in a project management career.