Project management is a career that more and more people are getting involved in and it is not difficult to see why. The growth potential for this industry is massive as organisations become more project-centric, it is a field where there are opportunities in so many different types of companies, and it is now a recognised profession with the potential to reach chartered status. Whether you are interested in working anywhere from tech firms to those in the hospitality sector or anything in between there are roles for project managers. If you are planning or recently embarked on a career as a project manager read on to discover some of the most common project mistakes that new project managers make so that you can avoid them.
Allowing communication to break down
There is only one place to begin when considering project mistakes you need to avoid and that’s with communication. Effective communication is a necessity for any project team – this isn’t news – every project manager at whatever level knows this but making sure communication remains effective and doesn’t break down mid-project is the challenge.
Once communication breaks down, the project will falter. As a project manager, you are going to be communicating with a wide range of people throughout the lifecycle of the project in various different ways from informal chats to formal written documentation. You need to determine everyone’s needs on your project, and you need to make sure you communicate with them on a regular basis in the way most appropriate to their needs. There’s no point sending technically detailed reports to stakeholders that do not highlight the issues that concern them. That said, nothing will worry your stakeholders more than radio silence.
Always saying ‘yes’
This is something many new project managers are guilty of, and it is an understandable mistake to make. You are only starting out in your career and the last thing you want to do is annoy people by saying ‘no’ to their demands. However, when you say ‘yes’ all of the time, scope creep kicks in, and you set your team up for failure because you may have committed to something that you are not going to be able to achieve within time or budget.
Saying ‘no’ may be difficult to do, but it is also one of the most beneficial things you can do for your project. The sooner you get comfortable with saying it, the better. But, of course, back up your decision to say no with valid reasons why – such as the risk of running over schedule or budget or risking the quality of other parts of the project.
Not investing in themselves enough
Some project managers make the error of not investing in themselves enough. They do a project management apprenticeship or take an introductory training course, and they believe that this is enough to see them through their full career. However, project management is a field that is constantly developing, and there is always something new to learn. The best project managers are those that continue to invest in themselves throughout their career. After all, training is not just for beginners. There are plenty of advanced project management courses as well, which can lead to the coveted chartered status.
Not fulfilling data requirements
Incomplete data is another error we see a lot of new project managers make (as well as experienced ones!). All projects are going to demand data and metrics be monitored to ensure requirements are being met and resources controlled. If the data is not valuable enough or it is not complete, the project can easily end up going astray. You need to ensure that your metrics fit your project and help you deliver what is expected, on-time and on-budget.
Delegating tasks on a first come first served basis
How do you allocate tasks to your team members? Don’t make the mistake of simply assigning tasks to the first person that is available. Instead, you need to match tasks to people based on their skill set. It is important to have the best person working on the job at all times. If you don’t, productivity and quality will both suffer.
Skimping on the risk assessment and management phase
Never underestimate the importance of risk assessment and management otherwise you are going to struggle to work on a project when something goes wrong. And it is simply the nature of the beast that projects will go wrong so there’s no point hoping for the best – you need to plan for the worst. This is why you need to determine potential risks and make a plan of action should they occur. This ensures you are able to adapt quickly to fix a problem so that it does not have a hugely detrimental impact on your project.
Putting together a schedule that is too ambitious
Don’t put together the schedule that you want your team to achieve. Put together a schedule that they are going to be able to achieve. It is important to be realistic at all times. Adding in contingency time is a necessity, as not everything is going to run as smoothly as you would like. If the schedule you create is too ambitious, two things are going to happen. Firstly, you are going to let the client down because you have promised something that you are not going to be able to deliver. Secondly, your team will feel demotivated because they know that they are not going to be able to do what you have instructed them to do in the time frame given.
Failing to provide enough direction
New project managers can fail in their goals and objectives because they have not established benchmarks. You need to have a starting point if you are going to turn your ideas into something tangible. By having a starting point, you will be able to determine how to achieve your objectives. If you do not know where you are to begin with, how are you going to be able to get to where you want to go? You won’t know what you need to get there. You need to establish the requirements of your project to make sure you do not lose your way. And, of course, make sure the project team is fully informed of the goals and objectives.
Not enough ‘we’ and too much ‘me’
It is easy to fall into this trap as a new project manager. You can easily forget that other individuals are impacted by the way in which you handle the project. Not only do you have your team members to consider, but you also have your stakeholders to take into account as well. You are quickly going to be on the path to disaster if you do not know what your stakeholders expect, or even worse, if you do not know who they are! You need to identify everyone that is going to be invested in your project, both indirectly and directly. You can then align your objectives to meet their expectations.
Failing to cut a project down to size
Another common error you need to avoid is allowing there to be too broad a scope. A large project can be very exciting when you are starting out. However, it is not all great news, unfortunately, as these projects can be overwhelming and difficult to handle. This is especially the case if you do not break the project down. To manage these projects effectively and ensure your team remains on track, you need to break down the project into smaller and more attainable goals. This will make it much easier for your team to stay on track and remain motivated. It is always a massive challenge to work towards something complex that seems difficult to attain but so rewarding when you achieve your goal.
Blaming people for mistakes in the project
Nothing can turn your team morale sour quicker than playing the blame game. We all make mistakes, and pointing the finger is not going to help anyone. In fact, it will probably make your team members reluctant to put in their best efforts for fear of failure. When something goes wrong, the best thing you can do is identify the problem, determine why it happened, and make sure that you and your team learn from the incident so that it does not happen again going forward.
Being dishonest about project progress
If the project falls behind, one of the worst things you can do is lie about the progress of the project. Yes, you may not want to make the client feel worried or disappointed in you, but you are only going to make matters worse if you are not upfront. You may think you can make up the time, but what if something else happens and you fall even further behind?
When the client eventually finds out the true state of the project they will know that you have lied to them. You will find that most clients are more reasonable than we might give them credit for so it makes sense to build good relationships with stakeholders. If you have fallen behind for any reason or are unable to deliver a certain aspect of the project to the required standard, all you need to do is explain the situation, and they are likely to understand. They may not be particularly happy about it but the chances are that a few extra days being added to the project is not going to be the end of the world.
A lot of new project managers make the mistake of micromanaging their team members in the beginning. It is easy to do this because you feel like you are responsible for the entire project and so you want to make sure that everyone is doing his or her job properly. However, if you do this, your team members will feel undermined. Not only this, but you need to trust in them if you are to become a better project leader. After all, you wouldn’t have assigned them the tasks you have given them if you did not feel they were capable of completing them to a high standard.
Not delegating tasks to others
This also links to the former point about feeling that you are responsible for the entire project. It can be easy to feel like you need to do everything because you are the project manager. But if you spread yourself too thin, you are going to be of no use to anyone. Instead, you should delegate certain tasks to team members. Focus on the things that really matter and demand your attention, rather than trying to do everything.
Not using integrated tools
The importance of project management tools and software cannot be overlooked. Technology has revolutionised the way we manage projects, making it easier for data to be shared and for team members to collaborate with one and other. Nevertheless, for this to be the case, you do need to choose software with care. One of the most important factors is to select integrated software. This means that everything will work in tandem with each other so that information can flow freely.
Not learning lessons
Last but not least, one of the biggest project mistakes you can make is failing to learn from your mistakes. While we have looked at some of the errors you should try to avoid, you are going to make mistakes along the way. All project managers do – even the most experienced professionals. However, what sets apart the good from the bad is that they learn from the errors they have made. At the end of every project, you need to assess your performance and look at areas for improvement. If something went wrong you need to evaluate the reasons why so that you can make sure you do not make the same mistake going forward.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding regarding some of the most common project mistakes that are made by new project managers, so that you can try to avoid making them. Nevertheless, one of the most important elements of being a project manager is understanding that you will make mistakes along the way. After all, this is a challenging industry, and you are going to be dealing with different challenges on a daily basis. Things aren’t going to run smoothly all of the time, and one of the greatest traits you can have is learning from your mistakes, and the mistakes of the project team.