by Moira Alexander

6 common project management mistakes — and how to avoid them

Jul 24, 2020
IT LeadershipIT StrategyProject Management Tools

Projects seldom go as planned, leaving project managers with any number of small fires to put out. Here are the most common issues projects encounter and how to get things back on track.

Few projects complete seamlessly, as there are many issues that can arise along a project’s journey from ideation to sign-off. Dealing with problems calmly and efficiently is a key aspect of the project manager’s role, and some of the challenges you will face as a project manager can be handled relatively easily on the fly. Others, however, will have a larger impact on the success of your project.

Following are six common project management mistakes that plague project success, along with risk management strategies and advice for heading them off before they derail your project’s progress.

Misaligned strategic objectives

Every project your company launches must tie back to companywide goals. When valuable time and resources are used to execute projects that do not align with your company’s vision, more important projects are placed at risk — and ultimately so too is the long-term success of your business.

To ensure this does not happen, each project should have a solid, approved business case that spells out specifically how it aligns with the goals set by your company’s executives. Each project goal must be documented to ensure the project is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant to company-wide goals, and timely (aka S.M.A.R.T). Identify all the goals and document them in the project charter to help create clarity about the project’s purpose and stick to its purpose by revisiting the charter and aligning team efforts around it.

No project sponsorship

Just as project teams and stakeholders rely on project managers for support and guidance, project managers also rely on project sponsors for the same. A project sponsor is typically a member of the executive team, and this person champions the project, provides insight, and helps project managers resolve conflicts when escalation is necessary. Sponsors also set the tone for the project to influence buy-in throughout your company. Change is not easily accepted by most stakeholders. Without a sponsor to help pave the way, project managers can be left to flounder with executives, cross-functional teams, clients and end-users. Every project should have a sponsor who initiates conversations with other executives and team leaders about why a project should go ahead. They should also convey the benefits, who will be assigned to lead the project, and request that cross-functional team leaders share information with their departments.

Poor capacity planning and resource management

Before your company can allocate and manage project resources, it will need to plan for resource capacity. In the planning stage, this means determining the resources that may be required for a project and then identifying the pool of available resources. Jumping past this step can risk project success.

Many companies leverage different tools to run what-if scenario planning during the planning phase and resource management phase as a risk-management tool to test the impact of assigning, managing, and shifting project timelines and resources. What-if scenario planning offers many benefits. It helps your company identify resource options in real-time, balance workloads, and optimize the use of all resources to ensure team members and stakeholders are not being overallocated. It also ensures task or project start and end dates will not be negatively impacted.

Misaligned methodologies

Project management methodologies provide project teams with a set of standards to follow while managing individual projects. Choosing the right methodology to execute your project is the key to ensuring fast and accurate delivery on the project’s premise. Executing projects without an effective methodology or aligning your project and team expertise with the wrong methodology is likely to increase the risk of failure.

There are many methodologies to choose from — each of which serves a different but sometimes overlapping purpose. Project management methodologies guide how your team meets its goals. Some well-adopted methodologies are meant to reduce product defects; others ensure your processes are effective; while others are for faster delivery of products or services. It is vital that your team capabilities are well-matched with the methodologies chosen.

Communication breakdowns

An estimated 20 percent of projects fail due to ineffective communication. Many factors contribute to poor communication and breakdowns — in day-to-day and project work. Communication styles or methods, existing tensions, conflicting goals, untimely communication, and miscommunication, among other issues, have the potential to create significant problems for your project.

Considering communication makes up the single most important aspect of effective project management, developing effective communication strategies is critical to achieving your project objectives. Knowing your audience is key to developing the right communication strategy. Communication should be timely, frequent, clear, and transparent. It is equally important to be inclusive and respectful. Another thing project managers need to focus on is ensuring communication remains consistent throughout projects this can help projects progress more smoothly.

Not having the right software and tools

It is virtually impossible to successfully meet project goals without some form of project management software or tools. Without tools to plan, execute, and monitor projects, your project manager is unlikely to be successful in his or her role. With so many moving pieces, project management within even the smallest of companies and the smallest of projects can be daunting. Larger projects that have multiple tasks, goals, and resources simply could not be effectively or efficiently managed. Before contemplating which projects to tackle, identify, and evaluate the right project management solution that will help your teams manage tasks, resources, schedule of work, and collaboration.