There are so many moving parts to a project—requirements, stakeholders, risks, team members, good news, bad news, deadlines, budgets—it’s no wonder that things have a tendency to go wrong. The good news is that mistakes are part of the learning process—but knowing what to do and how to respond to project mistakes is crucial.
I love that the most important reference textbook in project management is called a “body of knowledge.” Project managers learn by sharing their knowledge with each other, and that’s a fantastic thing.
When I started working on this article, in keeping with this sense of crowd-sourcing, I reached out to my PM for the Masses Google+ community and asked them, “What are some of the top mistakes that project managers make?”
Adding my own thoughts on the matter, here’s a list of project management mistakes.
1. Not identifying all stakeholders
A project, by definition, is a group effort, and will only be completed successfully if the team and all those involved are considered. One of the worst mistakes a project manager can make is to fail to identify everyone who’s invested in the project and affected by it. If you fail to consider the interests of even one important stakeholder, this could cause the undermining and ultimate failure of a project.
2. Not being 100 percent clear on requirements
Projects are about turning ideas into reality. You will not successfully complete a project if you cannot compare what you have done to the original idea. Being clear on your project requirements is essential to project management, and should be a topic that is always central to project work. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.
3. Not taking Risk Management seriously
When I wrote my book Project Management for You, I asked a number of experts what the most important aspect of project management was. To my surprise, many mentioned Risk Management. And after doing more research, I completely agree with them. Often, unless you are part of a very sensitive project, there’s no need to overthink this: Simply get together with your team, create a list of potential roadblocks or risks your project might encounter, come up with a simple action plan in case these risks become a reality, and assign a team member to “own” that risk.
The owner will have the job of watching out for it and raising a red flag if they see any of the identified risks coming. It’s a simple exercise that will make you better prepared and also give you peace of mind during the planning and execution phases of your project. (And if you have a project management tool that surfaces risks in your plan, all the better!)
4. Not learning lessons
In the heat of the project, when you and the team are trying to stay on schedule, scope, and budget, many project teams forget that promoting lessons-learned exercises is fundamental. These pow-wows are around lessons that are being learned during the course of the project. Too often when lessons-learned sessions are held, many times they are done only at the end of the project. Too late. A good practice is to hold lessons-learned sessions or meetings on a regular basis so you and your team become used to the process.
5. Not investing time and effort in hiring the right team
There was a time when hiring team members based on their resume, cover letter, and interviews was enough. Today, besides having the subject matter expertise necessary to perform the work, team members need to be, well, members of the team. As the project manager, I would recommend you ask yourself two questions before hiring a new person:
- Can they do the job?
- Will they fit in?
Companies who take these questions seriously and take a methodic and careful approach to finding the right candidates are creating amazing corporate cultures in which employees are happy and excited to work.
6. Not getting buy-in
Have you ever tried to give a child a bath when they’re not in the mood? That’s what it’s like to manage a project without buy-in from those involved. When looking at getting buy-in, typically we think of getting it from high-level stakeholders who have the formal power to have a negative impact on the project. While that’s important, it is also just as important to get buy-in from the rest of the team. You want everyone who’s involved in actually doing the work to be 100 percent behind the idea and purpose of the project.
7. Allowing scope creep
Scope creep is serious, and if not dealt with, could really turn a project into a failure. As the old Arabian proverb says “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.” Keep that camel out of your tent before it creeps in. The best way to keep scope creep from happening is, in short, by making a big deal out of change requests. Create a process that acts both as a deterrent for impromptu change requests, and also analyzes the impact on both timeline and budget for them. Treat scope creep with care and nip undesirable changes and increases in scope in the bud.
8. Keeping bad news to yourself
We all have the tendency to keep bad news to ourselves. We often justify it by thinking along the lines of, “it’s just a small issue, why get everybody worried?” While this approach may suffice when you are in a project by yourself, it doesn’t work when a team is involved—and an organization’s well-being depends on the project going well.
All team members are working on different tasks and work packages, under the assumption that all is going according to plan. Your “small issue” might play a part in some other team member’s work in a way you can’t predict. Also, this issue might be included in the risk register as a potential problem, and you might not be aware of it (or it could be in someone’s personal risk register that they haven’t communicated either). There are many other reasons why clear and transparent communication regarding issues, even if small, are extremely important.
9. Not using integrated tools
Projects generate tons of documents; they require meetings, sharing of information, tracking of changes—all the while requiring that a record of activities (once called a “paper trail”) be kept. Using the wrong tools can quickly turn a project into chaos. But even when effort is put into working with good tools, a silo mentality may prevent the team from thinking about how these tools will integrate with each other. When choosing tools, ensure that they integrate as much as possible, so information can flow freely through the team and records are kept.
10. Communication breakdown!
And finally, we get to communication. All of the nine topics above really come down to communication. Whether it’s not using the right tools, or keeping bad news to yourself, allowing scope creep, not getting buy-in, failing to hire the right people, not learning lessons, avoiding risk management, being unclear on requirements, or leaving out stakeholders, it’s a lot easier to avoid these problems by being a better communicator.
The great thing about being a better communicator is that you can learn and improve on it every single day on the job. Make it a priority, learn from your mistakes and you’ll soar.
If this article tapped a few buttons and you’d like to dig deeper into their solutions, download our eBook, How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.