Stop Making These “Groundhog Day” Project Management Mistakes

Eric Bergman, VP Product Management, Changepoint
Featured by Projects At Work on February 2, 2017

Phil: Do you ever have déjà vu, Mrs. Lancaster?
Mrs. Lancaster: I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen.

The 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray is more than just a beloved comedy about a rodent and a weatherman; it is a lesson in learning about the mistakes you make and how you hold the power to make different choices next time.

As project managers, mistakes are not necessarily a bad thing–in fact, in any project, mistakes are inevitable. It’s the mistakes we continue to make that cost our businesses, and make us feel like we are stuck repeating the same day over and over (and over) again.

Here are just a few lessons we can take from the movie:

Mistake #1: Lose Sight of the Big Picture
One of the most common, yet most devastating, mistakes a project manager can make is obsessing over the details and losing sight of the big picture. In the beginning of the movie, soon after Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, realizes he’s repeating the same day many times over, he only looks at the details. Think: obsessing over hearing the same song played on the clock radio every morning. It isn’t until he takes a step back and realizes some of the opportunities available to him, that he stops trying to break the radio and starts looking for ways to take advantage of the opportunities repeating the same day can bring.

Mistake #2: Unclear Measurement of Success
Many PMs don’t have a system for measuring success, or they get stuck to the old yardsticks of timeline or budget. Unfortunately, quality, impact, and realized business benefits are either unmeasured or unrealized. Once Phil saw the true measurements of winning over Rita, i.e. becoming a good person, he began working towards those goals. By rescuing the kid falling from the tree and helping the ladies with the flat tire, he began to succeed once he visualized success.

Mistake #3: Lack of Communication
It is no surprise that poor communication is the root of many-a-project failure. In fact, 60 percent of ‘agile’ project managers have cited ineffective communication as their biggest challenge. We’ve all been there: you are speaking with a colleague and the words she is saying, such as “batch file” and “parsing”, sound like a different language. When Phil realized Rita studied 19th century French poetry, he learned the language and recited a poem, and thus was able to move on to the next phase of his everlasting date. By learning the language of your team, you will be able to communicate more clearly and complete your projects on schedule.

Mistake #4: Focus Too Much on Negative and Overlook the Positive
Whether facilitating a multi-million-dollar IT infrastructure project or planning the annual company meeting, projects are fraught with miscommunication, budget hiccups, and timeline snags. It’s easy to get caught up in the complications and overlook the small wins along the way. Instead of concentrating on the same slush puddle you step in every morning, try to celebrate knowing the answers to Jeopardy and learning how to play concert piano.

Repeating the same project mistakes can feel like a surreal case of déjà vu all over again. Next time you notice poor communication on your team, are stuck in the negative details, or aren’t sure of the business goals, take a moment and ask yourself, what would Phil Connors do?

About Eric Bergman
As vice president of product management, Eric Bergman guides Changepoint’s product strategy and execution. Eric brings more than 15 years of product management and cloud technology experience and more than a decade of Project Portfolio Management experience to his role. Throughout his career, he’s advised multiple enterprise software companies on new product selection, process criteria and implemented go-to-market strategies in a variety of sectors.

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