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10 Mistakes Project Managers and Product Owners Still Make in 2022

…and What to Do Instead

With companies moving towards working-from-anywhere, the ante has been raised when it comes to leadership practices.

There has been a trend for a while towards more agile teams that are able to manage their own work and adapt to change. Good managers are facilitators of collaborative planning rather than dictators micromanaging every task.

Now, with distributed teams working from anywhere, these leadership practices are no longer only an opportunity for business agility but a necessity to be productive and retain a happy team.

Here are ten mistakes Project Managers and Product Owners continue to be guilty of and pragmatic alternatives.

Mistake 1: Still assigning detailed tasks to people.

Do instead: Set mission-oriented objectives, goals, and expected outcomes, then let the experts make it happen the way they know best. Due dates at the task level cause undue stress and demoralize teams. 

Team members should be empowered to break down objectives into their own deliverables and tasks, focusing on hitting goal commitments instead of task-level deadlines. Don’t be afraid of self-managed teams. They free leaders to focus on the bigger picture, driving the organization forward.

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)  with status rollup Automations tracking progress at multiple levels and across multiple teams

Mistake 2: Creating a false sense of control and predictability with Gantt (or Gantt-like) detailed schedules, coupled with traditional “command & control” management practices.

Do instead: Manage flow, not tasks. Manage, track, and optimize the flow of value from idea to customer delivery, removing blocks, clearing the way, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. 

With proper servant leadership, teams manage themselves, and capacity planning is built into the flow. With flow-based autonomous teams, leaders are not dictators, but rather facilitators and coaches. Hyper-performing teams are empowered and able to work independently towards company goals.

Optimizing the flow of marketing assets with Card Limits

Mistake 3: Using static reports to communicate higher-level progress to company leadership.

Do instead: Create real-time transparency at all levels of the organization. View team-level value delivery with Kanban boards, which are driven by higher-level program and portfolio initiatives and goals. 

The flow of value should roll up automatically from teams to programs to portfolios. Everyone from team members to managers to executives should have a clear window into live workflows and value streams.  

An executive dashboard with progress automatically rolled up from team to program to portfolio via status rollup Automations
Communicating product health to leadership with a Shareable link

Mistake 4: Spending too much time on repetitive tasks.

Do instead: Use automation to schedule meetings, send notifications when something is ready for review, visualize flow across multiple teams, archive finished work, and other time-consuming activities. Let Automations take care of the busy work for you.

A list of Automation templates in the Automation Gallery
If a deliverable is delayed automatically update a Leadership RAG (“red/amber/green”) Status board and feed a specific swimlane

Mistake 5: Relying on a separate QA department for product quality.

Do instead: Quality shouldn’t be delegated to a department or separate team at the end of a development cycle. Quality should be built into your entire development process. 

The cost of detecting and fixing defects rises exponentially as a feature travels from requirements to development to integration and release. Follow the lean method of Jidoka to ensure bugs don’t escape and make it to the customer. 

An escaped bug list with Card ID to clearly communicate bug status with a unique identifier
Read more about How Running QA in Favro Makes a Big Difference

Mistake 6: Mismanaging cross-team collaboration. Cross-team dependencies becoming blockers rather than collaborations.

Do Instead: If planned or emergent work between multiple teams is always coordinated through the manager, the manager becomes the bottleneck. 

Instead, the manager should make sure the teams have clear goals and transparency to each other’s planning so they can sync themselves. A good manager coaches the team to manage and remove their own impediments and removes larger organizational constraints. 

Everyone should have a clear and concise view of progress even if multiple teams are collaborating on the delivery of the same increments of value.

A product backlog with Relations showing status across all teams collaborating simultaneously towards value delivery

Mistake 7: Trying to resolve impediments with Gantt style end-to-start dependencies.

Do Instead: Believe it or not, most dependencies are not end-to-start hard dependencies. In knowledge work, such as software development, most dependencies are end-to-end, meaning one thing needs to finish before something else can finish. 

It’s most often not the case that something can’t start before something else is entirely done unless you’re building something like a house or a bridge. 

Dependencies should first be resolved with proper backlog management and prioritization, ensuring that dependencies don’t make it to team boards in the first place. 

However, some dependencies are inevitable. In those cases, you need the ability to visualize dependencies and resolve them with a conversation, even across teams, regardless if you’re remote and distributed or co-located.

Visualizing impediments with Favro Agile Dependencies on a team sprint board
Resolving dependencies with a cross-team conversation

Mistake 8: Working on very large increments of value for very long periods of time with no stakeholder feedback.

Do instead: Think in terms of one-piece flow: small increments of value being pulled from request to development to release with short lead times. Deploying value to stakeholders such as customers frequently has multiple benefits. Customers won’t have to wait for their most requested features and capabilities. Companies earn revenue on new products earlier. Teams have a greater sense of accomplishment when they see their work making a real-world impact. 

And, most important, you receive fast feedback from stakeholders and customers, enabling you to quickly adapt to changing requirements.

Break large things into smaller more achievable things. With the right tool, you’ll even be able to track the flow of value and progress at the execution level automatically.

Product epics broken down to user stories broken down to tasks, with the ability to track progress at all levels

Mistake 9: Treating external partners like outsourcers, throwing work back and forth over a virtual wall.

Do instead: Think of them as true partners and collaborate with them like an extension of your team. Include them in the process and keep them as part of the internal teams with seamless collaboration in the same app.

Read more about Working with Externals in Favro

Mistake 10: Creating feature-based roadmaps with hard dates or very narrow time frames, i.e. turning your backlog into a Product Roadmap with start and end dates on each feature/user story.

Do instead: Roadmaps are an essential tool but all too often, they’re misused as glorified Gantt charts. Think of it like this: Product Roadmap = your strategic view (outcomes, goals, impacts) and Product Backlog = your tactical view (Product features to hit those outcomes and goals and create those impacts). 

Create outcome-based roadmaps with flexible time allotments such as “Now, Next, Later” ensuring lots of room for learning and adapting based on customer feedback.

Outcome-based roadmap with the ability to show additional detail on the fly and drill down to the execution level when needed

Project and Product Leadership Evolved

Evolving from a command & control micro-management mindset to an agile facilitator mindset is essential for leaders in modern organizations to survive and thrive in the new normal. 

If the ten mistakes listed above ring true, then it’s time to rethink your leadership practices and take deliberate steps towards business agility. It’s not as hard as you might think. Simply changing to some of the approaches we’ve recommended will get you headed on the right path.

The above illustrations are from Favro, the #1 app for collaborative planning, within and between teams in fast moving organizations. Try it yourselves for free at Favro.com

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