7 Deadly Sins of Project Management

All projects, both great and small, inherently have a certain margin of risk. If you know what these risks are, it allows for better managing of the risks through the life cycle of the project. Major problems arise when there are risks which have not been calculated for and which are usually attributed to mismanaging multiple aspects of a project. Below are 7 common ways that projects go awry.

1) Mismanaging Project Scope
The project scope should always be written down, it should be the bible from which the project is being created and worked. All project managers have heard of scope creep, but inexperienced managers often do not know how to mitigate this. For those not in the know, scope creep refers to a project exceeding its original scope and steadily growing larger. As this happens it puts a strain on resources, timeframes, budget, and overall stress levels. It is a project manager’s job to ensure that any creep is accounted for. This is usually mitigated by having solid requirements gathering and a solid plan/scope document in place. There will always be outside factors such as clients asking to add/change things in a project, or potential risks which were not accounted for (or even some which were), but as the project manager, you are the captain of the ship – get her back on course.

2) Mismanaging Project Risk
Unlike scope, project risk cannot always be seen. It is important to note that even if you list off all the potential risks to your project that you can see coming from a mile away, there are always risks which you cannot see coming or have no control over. Being able to pivot to allow for these risks is essential so that they are not project ending. For unforeseen risks, you may need to increase budget or scope or resources, as sometimes there is just no way around that. As long as you are prepared for everything you can be, the unforeseen or unknown risks should have a very small percentage of possibility in ever happening. For example, a risk you may see coming is, “What happens if a team member gets ill?”, well, perhaps in this case you have cross-functional team members where someone else can either pick up the slack or manage the ill team members work load until they return. Now, what if there is something which you cannot see coming such as your office catches on fire and all your equipment is ruined – well now your budget needs to go to a temporary office space, and you may need to cover the cost of new equipment until insurance pays out, and hopefully (you should) have an offsite backup of your work – but this will inevitably cost you in time.

3) The “Yes” Effect
The “Yes” effect is essentially the inability to say no to a client when they ask you for changes to the project. Some people are so worried they will lose the contract or their client will not be happy that they have a hard time saying no, which ends up adding to the scope of the project (often without increasing the budget and/or the time frame) and exponentially increases the stress levels of the team (including the project manager). This is where having a well scoped out project document comes into play. As mentioned previously, this should be your bible for the project and if it needs to change, then everything from the budget, resources, timeline, and risks need to be re-evaluated. When you receive requests which could impact the project scope, you should put them through a change management process to ensure that the scope remains in control, the project remains viable, and that the stress management of the team is managed effectively.

4) Mismanaging Team Members
As the project manager, you should know the skill sets of your team members. Based on their skill sets you should be able to determine what they can and cannot handle in terms of their portion of the project. For example, if you have a 2nd year university engineering co-op student, you probably won’t ask them to work out the structural math on the 10 lane bridge you are about to build. While that example could have disastrous effects so could mismanaging skill sets on smaller projects. It can easily lead to needing to re-do work, which throws out your timeline, budget, and resourcing for other parts of the project.

5) Lack of Communication / Regular Meetings
I find that everyone seems to take a different approach to communication and meetings. Some people like to have a team meeting every morning before work (even in non-scrum environments), some people like to have meetings once a week, and some people don’t like to meet until milestones are achieved. I find that some people have the same philosophy with their clients in that they won’t set a meeting unless a milestone has been achieved. From a personal standpoint I think you most teams should meet at least once a week, even if it is only a 15-20min status update to make sure things are going well, though the project manager should be interacting with the individual team members on a daily basis. The same goes for client meetings, where a 10min phone call once a week, even if a milestone has not been achieved at least lets the client know that the project is on track.

6) Poor Scheduling / Timeline Control
Timeline control is a balancing act. You will always be pushed to get things done faster, even if the budget doesn’t change, that is just the nature of people; no one likes to wait for things. If you are running your team members at 15 hours a day for 3 months to get a project done, then somewhere along the line you have made a mistake and your timeline should have maybe been 5 months. You will always have clients who are pushing for the timeline to be moved up, or sometimes you will have a client who comes to you with an extremely aggressive timeline to start, as a project manager it is your job to look out for the wellbeing of your team and that means ensuring that your timeline is under control and scheduled properly. Another pitfall that is common in projects is when you are waiting for your client to produce something whether it be content, plans, documents, licenses, etc. While there isn’t much you can do about this other than to remind them for the information on a regular basis, make sure you are always communicating that it is increasing the timeline, as often you will get to the original timeline deadline and they will be upset that the project is going over. It is unfair to ask your team to stay late and work longer for extended periods if it is due to your inability to properly manage the timeline of the project.

7) Getting Stressed
Stress is a part of every project – the stress may be so small that you don’t realize you are being affected by it, but once you start to add to that from other projects (or your personal life), it can quickly become unmanageable. Make sure you are taking regular breaks, even if it is just to get up and take a quick walk around the office. Write a grocery shopping list, read a few pages of a novel, watch a funny cat video on youtube, or just take 10-15mins to close your eyes and relax; all of these can help you alleviate some of the stress you feel. Make sure your team is also mitigating their stress levels and you will find their productivity will remain high, timelines and milestones will be met easier, and clients will be happier with the outcome of the project as quality won’t be affected.

Happy Project Managing!

Brendan Wing

An experienced technical project manager, Brendan enjoys planning and creating well thought-out strategies and seeing complex projects come to life. In his spare time he loves to go on off-roading adventures, write fiction, read fantasy and sci-fi, and play with his dog, Noah.