In nearly every industry, projects are a critical function of regularly improving processes, up-leveling productivity, or making changes to a product. When examining teams in the auto industry, financial industry, healthcare sector, and more, it’s clear that projects have become an imperative function no matter what product or service is delivered at the end of the day.
Many of these projects can be complex; working through ongoing challenges and solving difficult issues can take a lot from teams who already have a lot on their plate. By defining a dedicated project manager for each project, the chances of success become much larger and the process to cross the finish line becomes smoother.
Project Managers are critical leaders on any project and studies actually show that organizations that invest in project management resources waste 28 times less money than those who neglect this function.
The Role of a Project Manager
Project managers can have many different “official” titles depending on the type of project management techniques an organization uses, but at their core, they are meant to be facilitators of each project. In many organizations, people who work on project teams also have full-time day jobs, so while much of the team has to balance the project with their other responsibilities, many project managers are fully dedicated resources on a project.
This role helps keep projects moving in the right direction. Responsible for communicating with stakeholders, managing budgets and timelines, and helping the project team complete the project at hand, project managers have a lot on their plate. With so many moving parts, ever-shifting priorities, and of course, dreaded roadblocks, project teams and project managers will make mistakes.
Mistakes are Inevitable
Some mistakes will be bigger than others, but they are unavoidable. Though mistakes can’t be avoided, it can be helpful to have knowledge of some of the biggest mistakes project managers make and tools to mitigate those ones. Remember, even if an error does happen, everything is fixable. With the right mindset, defined tools, and invested leadership support, even project managers that face obstacles can be successful. Here are 5 of the biggest project management mistakes and how to avoid them:
1. Failing to Keep the Scope Manageable.
The dreaded term “scope creep” is what keeps project managers up at night. When a project starts to gain momentum, it can feel like new stakeholders and additional requirements begin to come out of the woodwork. These additional requirements can take away from the progress the team is making, challenge the clarity of the project, and risk the overall success of the planned project. While stakeholders can be tempted to add small asks and changes throughout the project, the project manager has to reign in those requests, or they risk putting their team in jeopardy.
How to Mitigate
By maintaining a clear set of the planned outcomes of the specific project and enforcing that list, you can help stakeholders manage expectations. As a PM, it’s important to get used to saying “no” to people with more seniority than you because no one knows the ins and outs of your project better. If new requirements are mandated, you will have to reset expectations on budget and timeline or work with stakeholders to figure out what other requirements can be removed instead. Something has to give in this situation, it’s up to you to figure out what that is.
2. Lack of Communication.
Sometimes it can feel like a project manager spends more time communicating about the project than actually working on the project. However, this is a major aspect of any PM’s job. Failing to communicate project updates with stakeholders can leave them feeling as if they are in the dark and risk their ability to provide needed support to the project. Additionally, without proper communication on the project team itself, requirements can get missed, priorities can become unclear, and responsibilities can get overloaded.
How to Mitigate
Set up regular communication touchpoints on an as-needed basis. If a weekly stakeholder meeting helps drive clarity about what is happening in the project and keeps your stakeholders invested, it’s probably worth your time. You need touchpoints throughout the week with your project team to understand issues that have come up or support that may be needed. As a PM, you have to act as the point of contact for nearly everyone, helping to keep many people aligned as the project goes on. Do what works for you and don’t be afraid to try a few communication techniques until you find what works best.
3. Putting Quality Behind Budget or Timeline.
Project managers know that changing priorities threaten budgets, timelines, and project success. However, sometimes, even if the priorities stay the same, roadblocks can arise that will put agreed-upon budgets and timelines in jeopardy. If the budget and timeline are more of a priority than project success, the project manager has to remedy that. Nothing is more costly than delivering a half-baked project that meets timeline requirements and budget requirements. If done poorly, the project might have to be done again or not serve its intended purpose.
How to Mitigate
Be clear on expectations, manage timelines closely, and carefully plan capacity on a regular basis. You should get to a place where you can confidently say everyone is handling their workloads well and communicate quickly if anything starts to slip. It may also come down to asking for more resources such as a larger budget, more hands on the project team, or a longer timeline. It’s important to get out in front of these asks as early as possible. Don’t be afraid to use budget trackers and other tools to help keep this part of the project organized.
4. Not Bringing Everyone on the Journey.
A project is a journey. If your project team isn’t supportive of the solution, your stakeholders aren’t advocating for your team, or if the people whose roles will be changed with the project outcome aren’t aligned, your project will fail. It takes great communication, many conversations, and a lot of patience to convince everyone to come on the journey with you and your project, but it’s 100% necessary.
How to Mitigate
Many times, people are reluctant to change because they feel as if their opinion wasn’t a priority. Maybe they are concerned about how the project will impact their day job or if the project will make their lives more complicated, but by taking the time to sit down with those who are dragging their feet or seeming resistant to change, you can turn someone from a roadblock into a promoter.
5. Becoming a Roadblock Instead of Removing Them.
Project managers are often people who are considered “the jack of all trades” and this dynamic can sometimes lead to the project managers doing the project instead of managing the project. If you’re accidentally getting in the way of a developer or engineer, you will become a source of challenges for them. It’s your job to remove roadblocks, not become one.
How to Mitigate
Setting clear responsibilities within your project team is so important for everyone. This will help you stay clear on your role and allow others to gain insight on exactly what’s expected of them. Don’t be afraid to check in regularly on this topic. Check with your team, is everyone feeling as if they are able to do everything they need to? Do people have the right resources? Is anyone feeling confused about roles and responsibilities? These small check-ins can help drive alignment and make sure no one steps on each other’s toes.
Make Mistakes, Adjust, Move Forward.
No project is every mistake-free. Hitting bumps in the road, readjusting, and moving forward is what project management is about. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with a project or you’re worried that a major problem is bubbling to the surface, try and get your arms around what that problem is, ask for the help you need, and communicate clearly. Though “herding the cats” can feel like a never-ending, thankless job, you’re doing the work that many people could never be successful in, yet here you are, taking your team across the finish line. Keep going!