finer-detailsIf you have recently gone into the project management role you may have already picked up that you need to resist the urge to jump in and solve problems yourself as this will prevent you from fulfilling your project management responsibilities. Does this mean you completely absolve yourself of all details? No! Doing so leads to a lot of risks and inefficiencies in the operation of your team and execution of your project. This post will explain why it’s important to be across details of the higher risk areas even without trying to solve the problems.

Pitfalls of ignoring details

You make incorrect decisions – When you don’t know what’s going on, you’ll make incorrect decisions when you prioritise and allocate work amongst your team. One of the main ingredients for effective prioritisation is knowing what’s important. Without this, you could have a very important piece of work just sitting around while team members work on less critical pieces. The lack of progress on the important piece will put your project at much higher risk of disaster.

You give time wasting directions – This is the same as forwarding on emails asking people to action them without having read the email first. If you’re not across the details of an issue and you are about to delegate, you won’t be aware of what you are asking for. The person you delegate to may involve other people and soon you have 3-4 people working on something that is not needed at all.

You aren’t aware of minor issues until they become large issues – As with all issues that arise in projects the earlier you catch it, the easier it is to resolve.

Creating impressions that you’re not in control of your project – During status meetings you don’t want a situation where someone mentions an issue that concerns your project and you aren’t aware of it. It could be a very minor issue that had you been aware of the details, you could have explained in a few sentences, but instead you’ve created an impression that you don’t know what’s happening in your own project.

All of these situations can be avoided if you’re across the important details in your area.

What details should you be across?

You need to be aware of the key business objectives, requirements and key components of the solution design. These will be the foundation that drives many decisions you need to make around prioritisation of work items and resolution of issues that arise throughout the project.

High risk areas – The high risk areas are where you need to have the deepest understanding of the details. This includes areas of your project such as business requirements that are the most unknown. It also includes the organisational environment and industry that you operate within. If you have a large team that is progressing with many streams of work at the same time, you can’t be across all details. However you can identify the high risk areas, be across a lot of detail about what is happening on those streams of work and still ensure you’re across the other streams of work at a higher level; perhaps only knowing the detail for a few items in those streams.

Dependencies – Dependencies that your team has on other teams and dependencies that other teams have on your team are very important details to be across. These will drive priorities, may result in delivery risks and will also be a focus for status meetings. So you need to be across details of these dependencies to be able to explain and discuss them.

Critical path items – These are the items that can’t be delayed without having a flow on effect that impacts many other areas of the project schedule. You need to have a good understanding of the progress on these items.

Any issues your team is currently working through. Your team will be working with others as they get through issues concerning their scope items. These conversations may prompt other stakeholders to discover other issues or risks that they may attribute to the project and raise during stakeholder meetings. Being aware of issues your team is currently working through will mean you’re well informed and equipped to handle these discussions during stakeholder meetings.

How to ensure you stay across the appropriate details

Make sure your team is comfortable raising issues with you. You don’t want to build a reputation that you don’t want to hear about problems – if you give this perception then your team won’t bring problems to your attention which will result in you having a much harder time trying to fix the issues that do blossom into disasters.

So build a culture where your team proactively brings problems to your attention. One way of encouraging this is to make sure you ask whether there are any new risks or issues during your project team meetings.

Regular communication with your team and stakeholders will also help you stay across the details that are important from the perspective of different groups.

What are your tips to maintain a good level of understanding of the details of your projects?