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10 Rookie Errors Most Project Managers Have Made

Project Management

Failure is instructive.  In many instances, you’ll find that you learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes.  But at the same time, this doesn’t mean that failure should be welcomed.  In the field of project management, your own shortcomings could potentially lead to the outright failure of the project as a whole.  Regardless of the nature of the project you are tackling, it’s your responsibility to ensure that potentially fatal errors and oversights are avoided at all costs.

Still, there will always be those slightly less severe mistakes that most project managers have made at least once or twice.  While unlikely to throw the project as a whole in jeopardy, they’re still the kinds of mistakes that should be proactively sidestepped.

Having reached out to experienced project managers across a variety of sectors, what follows is an overview of the 10 most common rookie errors most project managers are occasionally guilty of:

1.  Failing to Identify All Stakeholders

One of the most important things to acknowledge from the get go is that projects are by their very definition group efforts.  Which in turn means that it is only when each and every individual involved has been both identified and acknowledged that a project can be completed successfully.  As such, it can be detrimental, costly and dangerous for a project manager to fail to identify all stakeholders without exception.  Even by overlooking the interests of a single individual, you could be looking at a chain reaction that threatens the outcome of the project.

2.  Not Knowing When to Say No

While there’s much to be said for following a ‘the customer is always right’ working ethos, there are times when the customer is wrong.  Knowing where to draw the line between the plausible, the impossible and downright ridiculous is a skill every project manager must master.  Nevertheless, success often relies on a solid backing of assertiveness and not being afraid to say ‘no’ when and where necessary.

3.  Excessive Optimism

Project management is a field in which everything you do is geared toward success, that you must under no circumstances naively believe in overoptimistic expectations.  Not that it’s productive to assume that everything will go wrong, that you need to acknowledge the fact that anything that can go wrong might go wrong.  Both in terms of your own expectations and those of the client, it is never a good idea to build optimism to an unrealistic level.  If anything, understate your true expectations and give the client a welcome surprise when you exceed them.

4.  No Formal Education

Just because it isn’t necessary to study project management at degree level to succeed in the field doesn’t mean that formal education and preparation are unnecessary.  Along with the primary character traits project managers must possess, you cannot realistically expect to join the industry until you fully understand both the industry as a whole and the profession.  Even something as simple as a distance learning course or part-time diploma study will set you up with a much better foundation than no formal education at all.

5.  Overlooking Risk Management

Speak to any sample group of successful project managers and most will tell you in an instant that the single most important aspect of project management is risk management.  Nevertheless, it is also an element that tends to go somewhat overlooked (or at least neglected) by others.  Risk management doesn’t need to be a complicated or time intensive process – assuming it is approached strategically.  Pull together every member of the team, discuss potential challenges and roadblocks, categorize and prioritize the risks you identify and work toward creating the necessary contingency plans.  A simple process, but one that may cost you dearly is overlooked.

6. Scope Creep

In the simplest of terms, scope creep refers to a common scenario wherein the focus of the project slowly but often detrimentally changes over time.  This usually happens when a scope statement has either not been created, or has been created by a single project manager in isolation.  Without the full support of the project team, scope statement quality will suffer and scope creep becomes a genuine threat.

7.  Sharing Only Good News

Most project managers are naturally inclined to share good news, while doing their best to hide bad news.  They assume that if it isn’t and earth-shattering issue, there’s no sense bothering or worrying others with it.  Unfortunately, this is a strategy that will only ever prove counterproductive in any project that involves a wider team.  The reason being that what you consider to be an insignificant issue may have extreme significance to someone else, with regard to their own contribution to the project.  In addition, there’s always the chance that it may in fact be a much more serious problem then you realize – something you will only discover by bringing it to the attention of others.

8.  Taking Things Personally

It is critically important to be able to distance yourself from the projects you oversee as it will only ever be you who ends up in the firing line when projects fail.  By taking things too personally, you run the risk of losing sight of logic, rationality and objective thinking in any instance you get both barrels from the client.  Project management is a feel of professionalism and criticisms are never to be taken personally – doing so will only ever hinder your progress.

9.  Not Being Selective Enough When Hiring Your Team

Most successful managers also agreed that insufficient time and effort are often invested in recruiting suitable team members.  Impressive resumes, cover letters and performance at interview or all well and good, but will come to nothing without the required experience, expertise and ability to work as an important team member.  Those you hire need to be able to both do the job to the required extent and fit in with the rest of the team, in order to represent viable candidates.

10.  Incomplete or Misleading Project Plans

Last up, exactly how much detail any given project plan contains will almost always have a direct impact on the ability to close the project on time and on budget.  Incomplete or misleading project plans will only ever lead to a scenario where team members frequently have no idea what they are doing, what they should be doing or when they should be doing it.  It is never advisable to commence a project without focused, comprehensive and documented prior planning.  To assume it is possible to in any way make things up as you go along represents perhaps the biggest and most common rookie error of all.