Project Management Professional (PMP)® Articles - Common Mistakes

10 Mistakes Which are Common in Project Management

By Christopher Scordo PMP, ITIL

“To err is human”, and project managers are no different when it comes to making mistakes. However, knowing which leadership and project management mistakes are common might help you prevent a disaster.

Here are 10 common leadership and project management mistakes most often made by leaders and project managers that can put the success of your client’s project at risk.

1. Mis-managing Team Member Skill Sets Your team resources are crucial. Matching them to do the right work is critical for the success of a project. A good leader knows how to get the optimal results out of the people working for him (or her), and they know exactly how to best match team members’ skills and abilities with the task at hand. For example, its no longer enough to know that you have three web developers on your team that are “jack of all trades”. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses between database development, business layer coding, or user interface (UI) scripting will allow you to optimize your team’s abilities.

2. Putting an Inexperienced Project Manager in Charge Taking charge of a project is hard. it’s even harder if the person in charge doesn’t have enough experience. For highly visible projects, projects with complex activities, or projects with more than 10 team members; it’s best to have a project manager who is experienced in everything from status meetings to managing risks and expectations. Do not compromise on project manager experience when it comes to critical project activities. If the project at hand is a complex web development activity, do not assign a project manager with zero technical experience. In theory, a competent project manager should have the ability to execute across subject matters. In reality, successful project managers frequently have a background in a specific expertise.

3. Mis-managing Project Scope Scope doesn’t always have to be set in stone. It does sometimes require compromise, and project managers should have a scope management process in place for handling requests that change scope; and know and understand exactly how the request will impact everything from budget to schedule. A project manager then needs to make a call on whether or not the request can be accommodated. Contrary to popular belief, the most common issue in managing a project’s scope is NOT accepting unplanned requirements; its when project managers do not accurately communicate those new requirements via the project schedule and budget.

4. Poor Scheduling Project schedule are there for a reason, they help the project stay on course (and finish on time), and are one of the most crucial measures of project success. It also helps avoid the domino-effect, which results in project tasks falling behind. Project managers need to run a tight ship when it comes to scheduling, and ensure ALL project stakeholders are aware of the project timeline and any changes that occur. One of the most common “surprises” that cause issues on a project is when a client is unaware of scheduled deadlines, so be sure the project schedule is always front and center.

5. Ego Problems Project management should never have an ego that discourages team members from making suggestions. While the final call will always rest with the project manager, taking an approach of “my way or the highway” is dangerous and often results in valuable feedback from team members not being laid out on the table. It also appears condescending to the client, cultivates poor team morale, and over-values the role of the project manager. The project manager’s role is to ensure team members work optimally to achieve project objectives, not to be a “king” of others.

6. Underestimating Project Effort Project managers have to ensure they remain realistic about what the project requires in order to prevent problems further down the line. Often times during planning activities, project managers are keen to appease their client and ensure there are no conflicts regarding the cost, schedule, or budget of a newly awarded project. This can sometimes lead to a “sunshine policy”, where new project managers are hesitant to accurately reflect the effort involved with project requirements. This type of underestimating is especially problematic, because the burden falls on team members to ensure work is performed faster or cheaper.

7. Letting Small Issues Evolve into Big Problems When project issues surface, they need to be addressed straight away. Whether it is a project requirement that was misunderstood by a team member, and requires re-work, or a mistake in the project budget; it is the job of the project manager to clearly address these issues (and own up to them) as they arise. Many projects fail because small issues turn in to huge problems, causing distrust among the client and project team. As soon as an issue rears its head, tackle it directly.

8. Not Knowing when to ask for Help If you are stuck as a project manager, ask for help. You do not need to know everything and being arrogant and not asking for help can put a project at serious risk. If it is technical or subject matter expertise you need assistance with, start by asking your team for advice. If you need assistance managing your client or project, reach out to a colleague or upper management. Most importantly, be honest and positive with your request and you will find others will respect your ability to ask for help.

9. Saying Yes to Everything As a project manager, you should be flexible and visibly eager to assist your client. But saying yes all the time is a bad habit that can ultimately lead to projects that spiral out of scope, and team members who are over worked. As a project manager you need to know when enough is enough, and most importantly, how to diplomatically reject client requests that do not allow for more time (or budget).

10. Ignoring Team Mistakes Mistakes happen, it’s human nature. As a project manager, it’s up to you to spot team member mistakes and deal with them immediately in a diplomatic, positive fashion. If the client is affected, inform them of how you plan on fixing the mistake, and (most importantly) how it will be prevented in the future. Failure to address team mistakes results in a culture where resources no longer care about quality, and this can poison a project.

As project managers, our highest priority is our client’s success. As such, this can sometimes lead to decision making that, while good intentioned, does not result in a well-run project or happy team resources. Being a project manager is no easy task and while mistakes will happen, knowing what the most common errors are could help you nip them in the bud before they derail your project.