The five principles of “error proof” collaboration with people outside your own organisation

By Luis Fernandez, with an introduction by Elisabeth Goodman 21st November, 2014

Mistakes are proof that you are trying


I asked Luis to write this blog as he has a very people centric approach to project management, and I thought he might have a valuable perspective on how to bring that to bear when collaborating with people outside the project team. He has brought an additionally unique perspective to the blog by relating it to his experience with Lean and Six Sigma, and PMP and associated concepts of ‘error proofing’.

The five principles that Luis shares certainly strike a chord with me, and I especially liked that he included one around Knowledge Management in the form of reflecting on lessons learned. I might have changed the order of Luis’s principles and put ensuring common understanding of expectations first.

But read the blog and see what you think.

Do you agree with Luis’s five principles?

Would you cite them in a different order?

What do we mean by error proofing – why is it important for collaboration outside of your organisation?

I frequently remember something that caught my attention during the Lean and Six Sigma green belt training course: The intention of this methodology (amongst other things) is to create “error proof” processes.

However, during the preparation course to obtain my PMP certification, a different concept caught my attention: Following the PMP methodology does not guarantee “successful” projects, it just “increases the probability” of making them successful.

In my opinion, the explanation of PMP is more humble and realistic. Nothing is “error proof” and what we do is to try to “increase the probability” of success in all the things we do in our day-to-day life. This is why I wrote “error proof” in quotes as the subject of my post.

Taking this into account, I can’t promise you that the five principles below will make you an “error proof” professional when collaborating with people outside your organization, but based on my experience, I promise you that if you remember the steps and start to apply them:

  • You will avoid most of the relevant errors in your professional life (and in your personal life) and as a consequence you will save the time necessary to correct them
  • The people you work with will notice it and remember you later for your professionalism. Most project managers need years to learn this.
  • The people you work with will remember you later for your kindness. Project Management sounds very technical but it is mainly a matter of human relations

The five principles for effective collaboration

The five principles are:

  • Avoid micromanagement (almost at any cost!)
  • Ensure a detailed review of the budget and contract
  • Clarify the expectations that have not been expressed in writing
  • Ensure the lessons learned are compiled and shared
  • Treat people as people, not as resources

Take note:

In my PMP certification training programs I always say that from my personal point of view the three most important matters that a project manager should never forget in their day-to-day work are: Communication, Team and Risks. You will see that the five principles are strongly related to these three areas.

Moreover, they are inter-related. If you miss one of them out, this will have an impact on the other two.

They are applicable to both these situations: when you are subcontracted as a project manager or when you are subcontracting team members, because they are just the two sides of a coin.

Let’s start!


I have a friend in charge of a Project Management department at Hewlett Packard that once told me something that I will never forget: You only need one (subjective) metric to know if a project is profitable or not. This metric is the “level of satisfaction of the client” about the project.

When I asked why? I found the explanation very smart. If the level of satisfaction is high, the client is probably relying on you and as a consequence, they are not bombarding you with continuous requests, giving you the freedom to manage your project in the most appropriate way, and saving thousands of hours of unnecessary tasks.

What can we learn from this?

  • If you are subcontracted, be proactive and ensure your contractors receive more than they expected to keep them happy as quickly as possible, and to make them appreciate that you are really taking care of their project.
  • If you are contracting, test the team member working for you, until you are happy with their commitment and they understand what you expect from them. Then let them work by themselves, clarifying what and when you want to be informed about the project progress (see principle # 3)


The budget is usually extensively reviewed by Project Managers, but unfortunately this doesn’t happen equally for the contract, as in many cases it is reviewed by a legal department.

What should we do?

a) Regarding the budget:

  • Never forget to clarify specifically what is included inside items with names that carry the word “management” as they could include a spectrum of tasks, maybe duplicated or unexpected
  • Negotiate from the very beginning (when your procedures allow it) the possibility of implementing new tasks without signing a new budget (to avoid time consuming agreements of change orders) by using the items in the budget that will never be implemented, or the items of the budget not burned yet.

b) Regarding the contract, never forget to check the clauses:

  • Which have an impact on the invoicing approval for the most important (related to cost) items.
  • That list what work is included and more importantly “what is NOT included”. If you forget the second one, it is very probable that the client will finally expect the unexpected.
  • Inform your client as soon as possible about the probable or relevant risks that you detect. It is possible that by changing a single word, you could save hundred of thousands of pounds


The budget and contract will probably not include all the future project issues.

So, it is a clear example of expertise to start the project by:

  • Asking your client (and your team members): What do you expect from me to help you feel as comfortable as possible during the project? Then take into account their responses and implement them or explain why they can’t be done. This will make people rely on you and make future communications more fluent.
  • Clarifying the expectations especially for the content of Status Reports, Main Deliverables and Approach to Meetings.


Everybody speaks about this but it is underperformed in most projects.

If you want to be remembered for your proactivity and ability to learn, just do the following:

Keep updated (and share proactively) an easy to review list with the:

  1. a) Mistakes: Tasks badly executed, and what should have been done instead
  2. b) Matters to improve: Tasks that could have been performed better avoiding unnecessary difficulties (and how to do them)
  3. c) Successful results: Things done well and how to extend them to other areas


Your client and your team are people, not roles or resources.

In every single interaction you make (calls, meetings, e-mails, face-to-face…) remember these three pieces of advice:

  • Always use the magical words: Please, thanks, sorry…
  • Avoid instructions. Try to increase awareness by asking questions (this is one of the principles of Coaching)
  • Be aware of the tone of your voice and your written communication. Avoid expressing frustration. You can express your frustration or disappointment in a neutral way.

It took me many years to learn all of these principles and the best advice I think I could give to a Manager is to “develop your assertiveness”, and a good way to do this is by remembering this quote:

People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”   Carl W. Buehner

If you have read until here, I’m sure you will apply some of these principles in your next projects.

Now, I have a more challenging question for you:



About the author and editor

Luis Fernandez obtained a degree in Pharmacy and Chemistry (he liked biochemistry so much that he has delivered health sciences training courses since 1989) and has worked in clinical research since 1996, managing global projects for Pharma since 2005. Luis realised that he needed to improve his technical project management knowledge so he obtained the PMP certification and started to run PMP-certification training courses from 2012. He honestly found the technical part easy, but the soft skills were more difficult, so he decided to study Coaching and NLP with the godfathers and their disciples. Luis is now sharing what he learned about the three disciplines (Coaching, NLP and Project Management) in his blog ( where he provides practical tips that optimise their synergies.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she now leads the Capabilities & Methods pillar for the Enabling Change SIG.

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