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Common Project Manager Mistakes and How You Can Avoid Them

October 16, 2012

It’s late at night, and you find yourself huddled over your desk staring down an impossible deadline, or fighting tooth and nail to keep a complex project from skyrocketing over its budget. Hey, join the club! There’s plenty of analysis to indicate you’re not alone. Only 32 percent of IT projects are deemed successful, according to The Standish Group. A career in project management can have many ups and downs, successes and failures, but what are the mistakes you’re making and how can you get past them? To help (both new and old) project managers we’ve created a short list of do’s and don’ts for project managers.

Do: Balance Priorities

David Smith, Technical Director at Techmonkeys, a Managed Services provider in the UK, considered 3 key factors when working on a project: time, cost, and quality. But having multiple priorities doesn’t mean they all need the same level of priority all the time. “In order [to have] a good project, all 3 must be defined,” Smith said. “But if you set one in stone then the other 2 need some ‘give’. If you say all three project objectives are set in stone then the project is doomed to fail,” Smith said. “I think project managers need to communicate this to clients a lot more clearly,” which brings up our next Do

Do: Communicate expectations clearly

Program Manager George Lessard believes communication is not only helpful, it’s essential. “Project management is more about Relationship Management than following what is learned in the pages of a book,” Lessard said. “Understand that a failed project is ok if you communicate to the Stakeholders and provide scenarios for them to choose the direction of the project.” Make sure you stay flexible and that the client is aware ahead of time of any possible issues that you can and cannot see.

Don’t:  Allow Project Scope to Frequently Change

Being flexible is one thing, but changing the project’s goals, objectives or process on a whim is a sure way to end up in project hell. A project with vague goals or lack of direction leads to bloated budgets and missed deadlines. advises project managers to define the scope of the project from the very beginning and keep track of it throughout the project’s timeline.

Don’t: Make Assumptions; Do Make Backup Plans

“I’ve found too many times PM’s forget to ask about what are we forgetting, or alienate people by assuming they’re the source of truth & knowledge” Lessard said. The truth is that you are not an omniscient IT project god; you are mortal, and you’ll make mistakes. Instead, keep asking yourself “what if this were to happen?” or “how about this scenario?” Prepare for as much as you can and be ready to adapt whenever something comes up. Lessard recommends “creating a plan, vetting the plan, and creating a plan B or C before you need it.  Don’t create a plan that manages you but one that you can manage.”

Do: Find Support From Peers

What is number one on Lessard’s top list of ways to avoid mistakes as a Project Manager? Find a good mentor. Finding a senior project manager who’s been in your shoes is a valuable tool, especially when new (and, often times, unforeseen) problems arise. If you’re interested in looking for, or becoming, a mentor, sign up for the Think IT’s Mentorship Program! It’s open to all Think IT members.

What other common mistakes have you seen project managers make? What experiences have you learned from since you started project management? Let us know in the comments section!

Posted By: James Sweeney


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