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4 proactive project management tips to avoid common pitfalls



Reading time

3 minutes


Luca Filippone


As every project manager knows, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. When something goes wrong, it’s easy to respond by finger-pointing. But as a leader, what you should be doing first is taking the time to assess the cause of the problem, before you start looking for a solution. That’s how you make sure that the little obstacles get dealt with before they turn into big problems. Let's dive into our golden (proactive) project management tips to avoid common pitfalls.

We’ll show you a number of steps to find the underlying cause of unpleasant setbacks. And finally, change these awkward situations into success stories.

#1 Don’t point fingers: take your responsibility

First things first. Everyone makes mistakes, but successful leaders differentiate themselves from others by taking responsibility. They understand that pointing fingers doesn’t improve the situation. Your team is not responsible for what went wrong if you didn’t give them all the tools they needed to be successful. And if you didn’t communicate clearly, that’s not their fault. Likewise, your customer is not responsible for the project that went wrong if you didn’t make all the requirements clear from the get-go. What you really need to know is what happened before, during and after things went wrong.

Everyone makes mistakes, but successful leaders differentiate themselves from others by taking responsibility.

#2 Expose the true cause using the 5 why’s technique

A handy tool that can help you put the responsibility where it belongs (even if it’s you) and understand the essence of the problem is the “5 why’s” technique. The concept is simple: by asking a number of “why” questions and dissecting the situation layer by layer – like peeling an onion – you ultimately get to the core of the problem. By going deeper with your questions, you will discover the real root cause. You’ll find that once you are practiced in using this technique with your team, you will start seeing big wins. Let’s look at how it works with a simple, practical example.

Situation: customer A provides wrong information

  • Why did customer A provide wrong information?
    • Because the customer didn’t properly understand the requirement.
  • Why didn’t customer A properly understand the requirement?
    • Because in the meeting we didn’t explain the requirement very well.
  • Why didn’t we explain the requirement very well?
    • Because we were interrupted by a phone call.
  • Why didn’t we go back and explain the requirement properly after that?
    • Because we incorrectly assumed that the customer understood us.
  • Why did we assume that the customer understood us?
    • Because the customer didn't indicate a misunderstanding.

By using the 5 why’s technique, you get deeper insight into the problem and how you can prevent it in the future. Additionally, this technique makes sure that you don’t end up foisting the blame off on somebody else. It's like your customer blames your team members. Instead, you take your responsibility and reflect on your own part in the problem.

Too many questions? Think again! The 5 why's technique is one of the most useful proactive project management tips worldwide.

Take your responsibility and reflect on your own part in the problem.

#3 Focus your action on addressing the cause

Now that you’ve determined the cause, it’s time to take action and solve the problem. Let your team know that the success of the project is important to everyone. And on top of that, make sure that they’ll get what they need to succeed. If you don’t go through these steps, and instead fall back on finger-pointing, chances are that you’re not going to deal with the problem, and it will probably happen again. Eventually, your team is going to lose faith in you, and when that happens, it becomes virtually impossible to complete any project successfully.

#4 Celebrate successes and show appreciation

And last but not least... take the time to celebrate successes throughout the course of a project. While a project is still going on, it’s easy to get caught up in the rapid succession of deadlines as they come at you one after another. But when you only focus on the end goal, you lose sight of your team members.

Always remember that it’s impossible to achieve success without a strong team. Caring for and maintaining the close cooperation and good team spirit ultimately benefits not only the team, but the project and the customer too. It might seem banal, but don't forget about this one. It's the easiest of our list of proactive project management tips, and definitely essential!

The key to success according to The Value Hub

When things go wrong, it is vital to recognize your own responsibility and not to pass the blame to others. Treat your team with respect and give individual team members confidence, so they feel that their decisions are being supported. This will keep you from reverting to finger-pointing and expecting your team to perform miracles even in the face of factors that are beyond their control. When, despite everyone’s best efforts, things still don’t go according to plan, as they sometimes will, take action by dealing with the cause of the problem so you keep it from happening again.

However these tips for project managers might not be new or 'breaking', they're proven very useful.

about the author

Luca Filippone

Italian, to the point and people minded. These words describe Luca best. Luca is Managing Partner at The Value Hub and the first to come up with new ideas and interesting opportunities.

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