How can you be the best project manager and avoid the worst project management mistakes?
First, you need to recognize the common mistakes and develop solutions to navigate your project safely past them.
Most of the worst project management mistakes involve people because management is primarily about handling your fellow humans.
What are the typical project management mistakes, and how to avoid them?
1. Clueless Guy (or Gal) in Charge
The quality of the project manager is the first step to a successful project.
Every project manager starts somewhere but putting an untried and untested project manager in charge of a significant project is a risk.
The successful project manager has cut their teeth on a few smaller projects and been in the deputy position before heading the project.
Avoid putting someone without a track record of successful project management in charge because they will learn on the job at your expense.
If this is your first project management role, and you fear you may be the clueless leader, find a mentor for support.
2. Shooting at Clouds
Every project must have an end target. The target must be so real you can practically taste it. Otherwise, you won’t recognize a successful project result. If you can’t see it, you and your team can’t accomplish it.
Define what success is in your project – when you know you can stop and move onto the next project. You need to define success for you, the project, and every team member and stakeholder.
One of the worst project management mistakes is the failure to set a clear goal.
3. Missing Milestones
If you are going to climb Everest, you break your journey to the summit into stages. If you run a marathon, you look out for the markers that tell you how far you have gone and what lies ahead.
Milestones or steps are inspiring and motivating. Classic mistakes in project management include not setting small success milestones on the path to the big finish.
It is hard to run a marathon, but imagine trying to run a marathon with no idea of how close you are to the finish line?
Even small projects benefit from a route map with significant milestones marked and celebrated.
4. Impossible Deadlines
Unfortunately, you can’t bend space and time to achieve an impossible deadline.
If it takes three days to pour a concrete foundation and have it set in ideal conditions, then putting a deadline of one day is impossible. You are setting yourself, your team, and your entire project up to fail.
A challenging target that stretches your team is fair, an impossible one demotivates your team, and they stop caring.
Of all the project management mistakes to avoid – the impossible deadline is number one to impact team morale, which also means protecting your team from problem clients with unrealistic expectations.
5. Driving Blindfolded
A complex project has many points where the timetable and budget can veer off course.
If you don’t monitor your project with mini-deadlines, budget checks, and key performance indicators while the project is running, you drive with a blindfold.
Imagine getting into your car, putting on a blindfold, and then setting off to get to your destination. Assuming you get to your destination, you leave a trail of accidents and chaos.
If you don’t monitor your project, you can’t spot when you are veering off course, and you don’t get the option to intervene – you are just along for the ride.
6. Watching a Car Crash
Another of the common mistakes in project management is a failure to delegate or ineffective delegation. Project management is getting other people to do the work.
You may be a superhero, but you can’t do all the project work yourself. You must let go and let other people play their part.
They can only play their role if you delegate work and the authority they need to complete that work.
Project management in architecture – as in other fields – is challenging if you know that you, as an expert, could do it better, but the name of the game is delegation.
Delegate or sit back and have a ringside seat for your project to crash and burn when you break under the strain of trying to do it all.
7. Square Pegs and Round Holes
In an ideal world, the project manager draws from a bank of skilled professionals and can put together a team with the perfect skill set to complement each other.
In the real world, you get the team available with the skills and experience that may not be a good fit for your project.
Avoid the classic project management mistake of dishing out tasks in order of seniority.
Before the project starts, assess your team members’ capabilities and give the right person the tasks that lie within their skill set.
You may have square pegs and round holes, but you can still look for the best fit with what you have.
8. Everybody Talks, No-one Listens
Communication needs to flow in many directions.
A project manager communicates goals, targets, and deadlines but must listen to problems, obstacles, and risks. Without a communication protocol, you can miss warning signs of overspends or missed deadlines.
Plus, you fail to benefit from positive observations from your team on meeting your goals more effectively.
If you are looking for project management mistakes and how to avoid them listen to what your team knows about the project – their viewpoint will help guide you to new solutions.
9. Wrong Direction
Projects are rarely static or straightforward. Things happen, and plans change.
Classic mistakes in project management are the failure to let your team and everyone else working on the project know about changes in the program. You assume that what you know, they know, but unless you’ve got a direct link to their brain, that is not how it works.
The project manager is the conduit of information flow, and you are responsible for keeping everyone on the right track to successful completion.
Don’t make the common mistake of not keeping everyone in the loop.
10. Chopping Wood with a Spoon
Theoretically, if you persistently hit a wood block with a spoon, you can chop it into pieces.
But why would you when an axe does the job in less time and more effectively?
One of the project management mistakes to avoid is equipping your team with the wrong tools for the job.
When you are looking at people and resources, at the planning stage, spend some time checking the suitability of the tools (software and physical equipment) for the tasks ahead.
11. All Stick, No Carrot
Project management is about motivating people to perform. You can motivate with threats or rewards.
Most child psychologists point out that children work better with rewards and praise rather than beatings and criticism.
Adults work in the same way. You are more likely to get your best work when people are motivated by a juicy carrot rather than a heavy stick.
12. Willful Blindness
A story told about Lord Nelson (UK admiral – Battle of Trafalgar) is that his orders were to return to port if he saw enemy ships. When enemy ships appeared, he looked at them through a telescope held to his blind eye, so he saw no ships and stayed at sea.
It worked for Lord Nelson, but as a project manager, failure to see the threats and problems is one of the common mistakes.
Sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich and hoping your problems will go away is not the best strategy. Trust your team but be objective – if someone is not performing, get in early, and get the issue sorted.
13. Wanting to Work with ‘Robots’
You won’t be the first or the last project manager who wonders why people don’t do as you tell them in precisely the way you would do it. The classic project management mistake of acting like people are robots will trip you up every time.
Although humans are broadly motivated by the same emotions and drives, the way people react and work differs depending on their character type.
You can read thousands of books and articles on classifying people into introverts, extroverts, leaders, followers, and other ways to work out what other people are like.
But in the end, you need to accept that no one else will approach any task in the same way as you – even if you try and micromanage them every inch of the way.
Sanity and success lie in accepting that the end goal is more important than the particular method of approaching the task.
People are not robots, and they approach solutions to problems differently to you.
14. Sweating the Small Stuff
As a project manager, your role is to allocate resources, monitor the budget, keep your team on track, and remove obstacles to performance.
Plus, you need to liaise with external stakeholders and keep them from interfering too much in the project’s minute details.
You don’t have the time to concentrate on the project’s small detail delegated to the team. The hardest part of a management role is getting out of the way of your team.
Your team can’t work if you try and do their job for them by interfering or continuously breathing down their neck. You have your role, and you need to give your team space to get on with their work.
15. Failure to Learn
The worst project management mistake is believing that you have nothing to learn about project management.
If you are open to new ideas and ways of working, project management in any field will teach you how to be a better project manager or not repeat the common mistakes.
After the Project Ends
If you want to grow as a project manager, take stock of what you learn after completing each project. Recognize the project management mistakes to avoid in your next project but take time to enjoy your successes.
Be kind to yourself as well as your team; you become the best project manager not from altogether avoiding classic project management mistakes but learning from them.