They’re coming. If they haven’t invaded your space yet, they will. I’m talking about project management experts who specialize in IT and IT people who certified themselves as project management experts.

I recently underestimated the power of a project manager and suffered a little professional embarrassment as a result. If you’ve never worked in an environment where your assignments have been “project-managed” on a formal basis, here are a few paths you’ll want to avoid.

Three traps
It doesn’t matter from what school of thought your project manager learned his or her paradigm. The traps are all the same:

Trap #1: Don’t be ignorant about the app
Whether you’re a full-timer or a contractor, if someone tells you your assignments are being tracked in Microsoft Project, or any other similar application, learn how to use the software. If you’re like me, you probably find that project management applications typically have gnarly interfaces, so you don’t use them.
But if the project manager is laying down the deadline law in that application, you must be able to launch the application and view the master calendar. Make sure you know how to search for your name in the “Assigned to” or “Responsible Party” columns.

I learned this lesson by checking dates on the color-coded printouts posted on the bulletin board. You see, I should have been checking the most up-to-date soft (electronic) copy of the calendar. D’oh!

Trap #2: Let not the buck stop on your timeline
The reason this trap is #2 is because you can’t know if the buck is stopping on your timeline if you don’t check the master schedule. But here’s the forewarning: Effective project managers will review the schedule in the team meeting.

I didn’t like this lesson, because it meant there were meetings in which the project manager said, “We are still waiting for Jeff to finish….” That wasn’t any fun.

Trap #3: Never ignore your dependencies
The subtitle for this trap is: “Change your dates when someone slips in front of you.” Here’s the deal. Project management software lets the project manager assign dependencies between different tasks or steps in the life of the project. Some dependencies are obvious, such as: Loading the software depends on getting the machine in the door.

Other dependencies are not so obvious, and even the best project managers don’t always get them right. That’s why you must be proactive in monitoring and managing your part of the project schedule.

Here are three reasons to approach the project manager directly to ask for a change:

  • It’s not your fault. If you’re waiting on a teammate to finish something before you can even start, your teammate may leave you inadequate time to finish your piece and stay on schedule. Don’t assume the software or the project manager will automatically extend your dates. Write, call, or visit your project manager about it.
  • A new dependency develops. Even the best-laid plans must be changed to accommodate unexpected problems or, more often, requests by customers. Once the project is in full gear, you may recognize dependencies that weren’t anticipated in the original plan. Communicate with the project manager ASAP.
  • You need more time. Results will vary! If you can sell your project manager on that one, remember that you may not get more than one chance to make the new date.

Share your favorite project management pearl of wisdom by posting a note below or writing to Jeff.