10 Common Project Management Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.”

- George Bernard Shaw

Making mistakes is not necessarily a bad thing, as you can use them as ‘lessons learned’. Here are the 10 most common project management mistakes and how to deal with them. There are many project management best practice tips out there. The InLoox blog too offers various blog entries on how to deliver successful projects, however, there is no ‘The One’ recipe for project success. Each project is different and needs to be managed differently. Project mistakes are unavoidable, as every project is dependent on so many uncontrollable external factors. But while project managers can’t avoid mistakes completely, they can avoid making the following common project management mistakes: 

1. Underestimating team engagement

At its core, project management is about people. Without people working on the project, there would be no project. Project managers who fail to recognize their team members’ efforts and do not facilitate team engagement, risk project failure. Team members who don’t feel appreciated, are less motivated to do a good job.

2. False assessment of risks

Underestimating risks, or not even acknowledging risks, is dangerous. It can completely derail your project plan and schedule and increase project costs dramatically. However, overestimating risks is just as detrimental to a project, because it will keep you from taking action because you’re too careful. Assess risks and the probability of their occurrence carefully and create an action plan to mitigate them if you can’t avoid or eliminate them.

3. Insufficient project plan

The worst mistake a project manager can make is not having a plan. Every project needs a project plan that serves as a roadmap for the project team to follow. The second worst mistake is to have an insufficient plan. Which means that the plan might lack a clear objective, a comprehensive scope definition, or an inaccurate project schedule. A project plan that is missing one or all of these aspects, is doomed to fail.

4. Project objective not aligned with organizational strategy

Having a project objective alone is not enough. One of the reasons projects fail is that there’s a gap between the project’s goals and the organizational goals. The main goal of any project is to add value to the organization, so the project’s objective has to align with the overall organizational strategy. One method to identify goals effectively is the SMART method.

5. Inconsistent methods and processes

The worst case scenario: The marketing department is working with mind maps, IT is working with an agile too, HR is working with Excel, and each team is communicating through different communication channels. The result of this chaos is that project communication is ineffective and the project’s processes are inefficient. It’s important to establish clear communication processes as well as streamline project processes.

6. Unclear expectations and requirements

Communication is key in project management. If the project manager does not communicate the expectations and requirements to the team members and other stakeholders, he risks that there will be confusion and misunderstanding. Having clear requirements is important to measure success, as it allows you to compare planned and actual results.

7. Lack of stakeholder management

Stakeholders have an interest in the project’s successful completion. Each project has several different stakeholders who often have different requirements towards the project. Not balancing their requirements can lead to dissatisfaction and conflict between the stakeholders and the project manager. Depending on their decision making power, dissatisfied stakeholders can have a big impact on the project – in the worst case they might withdraw their buy-in and support entirely.

8. Missing upper management trust

As we’ve just established, having buy-in is important for a project’s successful delivery. The most important support a project needs is backing from upper management. Only with the trust of upper management, can the project team realize their full potential. Get buy-in from the C-Level early on and always be honest about the project’s status.

9. Dismissing lessons learned

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the project is over once it was delivered to and accepted by the customer. The project team still needs to initiate a formal closure event. Project closure includes a review meeting, also often called retrospective, to look back on what worked and what didn’t work so well during the project’s execution. Document all ‘lessons learned’ carefully and archive them together with the other important project documents. This will help you retain all experiences and knowledge for future projects and project teams.

10. Using the wrong tools

To clarify: project management tools do not replace project management skills and experience. A tool is there to support the project team, it does not substitute the actual project work. So it’s essential that you use the right tool. Before acquiring a PM solution, you will have to clarify your project team’s needs and pain points as well as your requirements for the tool: What challenges do we want to tackle with this tool (e.g. inefficient processes, low performance etc.)? What do we want to achieve with this tool (e.g. increase efficiency, effectiveness and/or productivity)? What features does the tool need to have (e.g. Gantt charts, Scrum, Kanban, multi-project management etc.). Make use of free trials that most PM software vendors offer and put the tools to a thorough test. InLoox, for example, offers a 30-day free trial (which ends automatically), or you can also experience InLoox solutions live in action via a free webinar.