How to Minimize the Perils of DIY Project Management

Diane Stoner | 12.07.16
Topics: Project Management

Think back to a recent technology project at your association—perhaps an AMS implementation, website redesign, or online community launch. Who was in charge of the project—the IT, membership, or marketing director?

Many association technology projects are led by staff who aren’t project managers but are expected to manage the project as if they were. When the person in charge doesn’t have project management expertise and experience, projects can go south in all kinds of ways:

  • Project team dynamics suffer.
  • Conflicts arise over resources and responsibilities.
  • Budgets are blown.
  • Deadlines are missed.
  • Expectations aren’t met.

Ideally, a project budget includes resources to hire a real project manager, but you may not live in that ideal world. If you must go it alone and rely on staff to manage your technology project, think through these issues up front to minimize the perils of DIY project management.

Be prepared for the challenges your in-house project lead will face.

Choose the most qualified person to lead the project.

The most obvious person isn’t always the best person to lead a project. Here are some qualities you should seek in your project manager.

  • Ability to persuasively communicate the business case for the project
  • Organized and methodical—but also creative
  • Problem solver who’s not afraid of conflict resolution
  • Objective and non-judgmental
  • Consensus builder who garners trust, confidence, and buy-in from the project team and other stakeholders
  • Unflappable, supportive, and motivating when the going gets rough
  • Ability to focus on the task at hand as well as the big picture, and to deal with existing conditions while anticipating how present decisions impact future outcomes

Sound like anyone you know?

Understand the consequences of going with the default choice.

Too often the person leading a project isn’t put in charge—they end up in charge because their department will use and/or pay for the new technology. Or, someone from the IT department is put in charge because, naturally, it’s a technology project.

These default choices don’t always lead to success, and they come with additional risks that must be acknowledged and addressed.

  • IT staff aren’t always aware of business and user needs, processes, and objectives.
  • Other staff lack objectivity and see the project purely from their own department’s perspective.

Because your staff aren’t skilled business analysts or project managers, they don’t have the experience or expertise to know what they don’t know about managing requirements, selection, testing, and implementation processes. At the least, allow them the time and resources they need to acquire some project management knowledge before throwing them in the deep end.

If your project lead lacks project management experience, she may stretch and twist in ways unfamiliar to her, creating delays or derailing your project.Be realistic about the project manager’s workload.

One of the most common reasons a project doesn’t live up to expectations is because the person in charge is stretched beyond their capabilities. She's expected to manage the project in addition to her usual workload. Nothing is taken off her plate.

An internal project manager (PM) typically spends 10-20 hours a week on a technology project. The amount of actual time depends upon the complexity of the project and number of people involved.


  • Ask your vendor to refer you to clients who’ve done similar projects so you can find out what type of project workload your PM and staff can expect.
  • Develop a plan to offload some of the PM’s usual work to others while she's managing the project.

But, you say, our vendor has a project manager who will take care of all this. Not exactly. Don’t rely on the vendor’s PM to manage your share of the project. The vendor’s PM is managing their share of the project so they can keep their staff on schedule. The vendor’s PM will work with your PM to coordinate timelines and deliverables—but they have their own job to do. You need someone on your side of the relationship to manage your share of the project workload.

Understand an internal project manager’s responsibilities.

The PM must be someone who can garner trust and respect from their peers and senior staff. She manages the project and the project team—staff who understand business needs, help develop requirements, and assist with data migration, testing, and training.

The PM guides the project through all its stages—from requirements gathering through testing and implementation. She’s responsible for keeping the project within budget and on schedule. She drives the project forward by assigning tasks and making sure everyone does what’s required to meet deadlines. She’s in charge of keeping communication open between all parties and reports regularly to staff, leadership, and vendors about the project’s progress.

Change management is a critical component of the project manager’s job, although it’s an area that’s often overlooked during a DIY project. The PM must prepare staff for any changes in workflow, processes, and responsibilities caused by the new technology. She must also be on the lookout for signs of resistance, uncertainty, and fear so she can help colleagues adapt to change.

The project manager calls the shots, but when she needs backup, the executive sponsor steps in.

Provide the support of an executive sponsor.

The executive sponsor is someone in the C-suite or senior staff member whose requests are never denied—the muscle behind the project manager. If an uncooperative department head isn’t allowing their employees to attend project meetings or testing sessions, the project manager escalates the issue to the executive sponsor who steps in to fix the problem.

The executive sponsor is the ultimate authority for the project and the one who makes the tough decisions, for example:

  • What’s inside—and outside—the project’s scope.
  • Whether something can be added to or deleted from the scope.
  • Whether a budget can or cannot be exceeded.
  • How change management efforts will be implemented.

With the buy-in and support of the executive sponsor, difficult changes and adjustments get the attention they deserve.

Despite the heavy workload, being the project manager does have its benefits—the opportunity to develop valuable resume-enhancing skills. But, make sure you choose the best person for the job. A project’s success depends on the ability of the project manager to anticipate challenges, make tough decisions, deal with conflict, and stay objectively focused on project goals.

A common example of in-house project management involves system selections. We’ve done a few of these, and can help streamline the process. Download our free case study, Demystify the System Selection Process, to learn how.

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