Project management mistakes make good learning tools.

The facts and figures don’t lie: Managing complex projects is a daunting task. Which is why there’s so much at stake in the field of project management.

Despite our best efforts, the majority of large scale projects finish over budget, out of scope, and past deadlines—if they’re completed at all. If your company is suffering from failed projects, you’re not alone: 70 percent of business projects fail in some important way.

The culprit behind project failure varies from company to company, but by identifying—and learning from—the worst project management mistakes, you can mitigate the risk of your own projects failing.

Here are the four worst project management mistakes and how you can avoid them.

Mistake #1: Starting with an undefined problem

Your project will never be successful if you don’t know what problem it’s solving. If you don’t know the problem, then you definitely can’t know the solution. This leads to a lack of adequate planning, which is a recipe for disaster.
Underestimating resources and skills, enforcing unreasonable deadlines, not finding the right people for the job—these are all symptoms of starting with an undefined problem. In fact, underestimating complexity is listed as a factor in 35 percent of projects.

Solution: Every project needs a clear objective along with quantitative measurements before it can begin. You want to point the project’s main problem, determine the specific necessary requirements—and be clear about all parts and steps. Don’t be vague. If you don’t put in the time upfront to plan appropriately, then you’re planning to fail.

Have a project management plan.
Mistake #2: Ignoring scope creep

Having a standard, repeatable process in place is an important aspect of project management. However, being flexible can be just as important. Even if you’ve successfully defined the problem you’re solving, it’s important to create a formal change process.

Obviously you want to stick as close to the original scope as possible, but some projects will inevitably need to be re-assessed. Welcoming scope creep with opens arms is definitely not a best practice, but ignoring it is just as dangerous.

Solution: Create a change management process where new requirements are documented, reviewed and approved. Examine why you need to change gears; reassess what new resources are needed, and communicate the updated goals so the entire team remains aligned.

Mistake #3: Poor communication

Completing projects successfully requires everyone to be on the same page. A study by the Project Management Institute revealed:

 “Ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time.”

When person-to-person communication is hampered, business will be out of sync with project requirements. Communication is critical to the success of strategic initiatives: organizations that communicate more effectively are more than five times as likely to achieve high performance than minimally effective communicators.

Solution: Project management software that facilitates communication and collaboration can help businesses get back to the basics by circulating information in a timely manner. It’s also important to make sure that all information is clear and detailed. Refrain from using technical or complex language in your written or spoken communication. You want everyone to relate to the information you’re sharing.

If lines of communication are, for whatever reasons, blocked, consider holding brief weekly meetings or sending a weekly wrap up email to increase contact. Additionally, it may be necessary to meet with team members one-on-one. Every person involved should know their priorities and be able to identify:

  • The top three things that must be done today
  • The top three things that must be done this week
  • Their key tasks that move the project forward.

In short, everyone should know what tasks will create a domino effect to move the project forward. Simply focusing on the next big deadline won’t matter if the small parts aren’t running smoothly. Aligning individual goals and tasks with the overall project objective requires open, transparent communication.

Mistake #4: Not learning from failure

Every business is looking for new and better ways to work. But at some point during this process, failure is likely to happen. Don’t be the team that, when failure happens, you either focus on blaming or moving on like the problem never occurred. Then, the mistakes are a waste of time.

Solution: Failing is okay, even necessary—as long as you fail productively.

Failure can be necessary to create forward momentum. It can teach valuable lessons, especially if you ask the right questions, such as:

  • Where did the original plan fail?
  • How can we learn from it?
  • What can we do next time to prevent or anticipate similar problems?

Just as you grow from successes, you must learn from the failures so you don’t make the same mistake twice. Don’t forget—it’s the mistakes that help us get better.


There are a lot of hurdles to clear when managing a project, which can up the stress when you’re taking a project through to delivery. Whether you’re a trained Project Manager or someone who manages projects (“accidental project manager”), the common pain points remain the same. We collected the top 9 PM challenges and offered solutions in our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

top 9 project management challenges

Related stories:

4 Top IT Project Management Disasters of All Time—and Their Lessons
The Project Manager’s Survival Guide
10 Steps to Manage Your Budget When the Scope Changes

The 4 Worst Project Management Mistakes–and How to Avoid Them was last modified: June 1st, 2017 by Jenna Puckett