Editor’s note: Karen McIssac is president of Project Managers, Inc., which is based in Charlotte.Project management is like cooking. There is a recipe for success peppered with some elements of creativity and flexibility. So, the next time you’re about to whip up your next project, keep in mind several key ingredients: risks, milestones, strong leadership, changes and stakeholders.

What about risks?

When managing projects, be prepared to take risks. Unfortunately, many project managers fail to consider the identification and mitigation of risks, which should be “continuous” efforts throughout the entire project lifecycle. While the program/project manager and the project team will certainly identify some of the risks, risk identification is primarily the responsibility of the stakeholders since they are directly affected by the project outcome.

Depending on the organization and type of project, risk considerations can include: vendors, project scope, project team, customers and/or revenue.

Missed milestones

Projects typically fail because there is not enough attention focused on achieving the milestones. This can affect other project dependencies, contribute to missed revenue opportunities, diminish quality in downstream deliverables, generate cost overruns, and require additional human capital to overcome them. Additionally, the credibility and capability of the project team/project manager is usually brought into question.

Milestones are like dominoes. Once the first one falls (fails), there is typically a downstream impact to the remaining dominoes.

The Program/Project Manager

Many initiatives fail due to a lack leadership skills and experience on the part of the program/project manager.

In times when project managers are guiding the team “through stormy waters,” they need to demonstrate outward confidence, establish high team expectations, be a supportive facilitator, and be an active and available member of the team.

Additionally, many programs/projects have some level of conflict and will frequently find that they must deal with conflict head on and in a timely manner to avoid roadblocks to progress and success.

If there is a situation of being the bearer of “bad news,” it is critical that project managers provide a true picture of the facts to sponsors, management and stakeholders. Presenting the scenario in a researched, no-nonsense manner and offering optional scenarios is the correct way to demonstrate leadership.


Changes must be managed throughout the life of a program/project. Otherwise, a project manager risks project failure! Changes must be communicated to everyone affected and always require a modification to some combination of project schedule, quality, or cost. Therefore, change management controls need to consider tracking, assessment, prioritization, stakeholder review, and sponsor/steering committee approval.

Establishing an effective change management process will go a long way to ensuring the success of the effort.

Stakeholders — Where are they, who are they, and why are they important?

Stakeholders can represent many key partners in any initiative including: sponsors, stakeholders (e.g. external suppliers, management), cross functional partners (e.g. legal, marketing, operations), team members and external vendors/suppliers

Identification of all stakeholders is essential. Those that you fail to identify can quickly become a barrier to achieving successful project implementation.

Karen McIsaac is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and president of Project Managers, Inc., which specializes in maximizing return on project investments. She can be reached at 704-332-6611 or kmcisaac@ProjectMgrs.com