5 Common Project Management Mistakes to Avoid

5 Common Project Management Mistakes to Avoid
Project Management

Key takeaways

  • Project management, at its core, requires careful planning, proactive client management, and judicious use of resources.
  • Outfitting a capable team with the right tools will make it easier to sidestep many common mistakes.

May 31, 2024: Bradon Matthews made revisions for clarity, conciseness, and to include information on the importance of communication, timelines, automation, and resource utilization.

What are the most common project management mistakes?

Unlike project management risks, which cannot always be controlled and can only be anticipated, project management mistakes are almost always a result of an oversight or human error. 

Here are some of the most common project management mistakes and how they can be avoided.

Not setting clear project goals

As a project manager, you need a clear end goal so you can coordinate your team and better assess progress. Many projects fall apart because the project manager failed to set clear objectives during the project kickoff meeting. 

One of the best solutions to avoid this mistake is to ask stakeholders to provide a definitive objective and key performance indicators (KPIs) at the beginning of the project planning.

When working with stakeholders to scope out the project, it’s important to establish reasonable deadlines. Committing to a rushed schedule might make stakeholders happy in the moment, but it can compromise the project later on. 

And even if you meet the deadline, the excessive workload can lead to team burnout, causing the members to get demotivated or, worse, quit. The resulting turnover and lost productivity can be costly to the organization.

Scope creep is the addition of features, functions, or tasks that were not included in the initial project scope. Scope creep usually happens when there is no consensus on the project scope.

Preventing scope creep depends on project scope management. When your team is able to offer documentation or data-backed explanations for rejecting a request, most clients will understand. 

Be proactive by:

  • Defining the project scope clearly before work on the project begins.
  • Communicating with stakeholders so they understand how the project is proceeding.
  • Prioritizing requirements and distinguishing between must-haves and nice-to-haves.
  • Chronicling the elements of the project scope, requirements, etc. with Atlassian’s minimum viable product ideation template. This will give you the documentation you need to keep the project’s scope manageable.

Another surefire way to avoid this project management mistake is by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

S – Specific: Goals should be well-defined and have a clear objective.

M – Measurable: Goals should be quantifiable.

A – Achievable: Goals should be realistic and attainable.

R – Relevant: Goals should align with broader objectives. 

T – Time-bound: Goals should have a defined timeframe or deadline.

To help you set S.M.A.R.T. goals, here are some tips: 

  • Use tools like Gantt charts to keep goals visible during daily activities.
  • Involve your team and important stakeholders in goal-setting.

Use S.M.A.R.T. goal templates like the ones provided by Smartsheet to simplify the process.

Failing to clarify roles and responsibilities

Failing to clearly define each member’s responsibilities can lead to confusion, duplication of efforts, accountability issues, and task neglect. 

One way to avoid this is by employing the RACI matrix.

A RACI matrix is a project management tool used to clarify the roles and responsibilities of individuals or groups for different tasks within a project.

Use the RACI matrix to assign the following roles: 

R – Responsible: This is the person who actually does the work to complete the task.

A – Accountable: This person is ultimately accountable for the correct and thorough completion of the task. This is typically one individual, likely the project manager.

C – Consulted: These are the people whose opinions are sought before tasks are completed. They are usually subject matter experts.

I – Informed: These individuals need to be kept informed about progress or decisions, but they don’t need to be consulted.

Clarity is crucial for preventing misunderstandings and ensuring that all tasks are covered without overlap or neglect. 

Effective communication starts at the planning stage and should involve stakeholders. Be sure to pin down all the requirements the project will need before work begins, as this will allow you to build a team that can handle the full scope of the project.

From there, use the RACI Matrix to assign roles and responsibilities, and be sure to relay these to your team directly. Team members are more likely to take ownership of their tasks when they know what is expected of them and understand that they’ll be held accountable for specific outcomes.

Not creating the right reports 

Project management requires a variety of reports on things like project status, project progress, and resource utilization. Generating confusing or incomplete reports can lead to blind spots, and you may not be able to identify a problem until it becomes catastrophic.

If you diligently track project progress but fail to report on budget or emerging risks, you may accidentally run the project into the ground or leave stakeholders confused and unsatisfied.

You can avoid this common mistake by: 

  • Establishing which metrics you’ll track across all important categories during project planning and ensuring each has a clear purpose.
  • Creating different reports to avoid information overload and making that data accessible.
  • Regularly asking for feedback on your reports from both stakeholders and team members.
  • Using a customizable project management reporting tool like Wrike to make your reports clear, digestible, easy to share, and specific to each of your project’s key metrics.

Prioritizing the wrong tasks

There are plenty of innovative project management strategies project managers can apply to boost efficiency, but it is highly important that as a project manager, you know how to prioritize tasks properly. Prioritizing the wrong tasks is a common mistake brought about by the fact that when dealing with multiple deadlines, we tend to put urgent tasks ahead of important ones. 

To overcome this problem, use the Eisenhower matrix: an excellent tool for setting the important tasks apart from the pressing ones for maximum efficiency.

The Eisenhower matrix is a productivity tool that categorizes tasks into four quadrants: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and not urgent and not important.

Urgent tasks require immediate attention and are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals. They demand action to avoid negative consequences.

Important tasks are those that contribute significantly to your long-term mission, values, and goals. They may not require immediate attention but are crucial for the project’s success.

Consider what might happen if a task is done or not done. Urgent tasks often have immediate consequences, while important tasks have significant, albeit sometimes delayed, impacts.

If a task’s urgency or importance isn’t clear, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this need to be done now, or can it wait?
  • What is the impact of delaying this task?
  • Who is determining the urgency of this task?

Use these questions to map your tasks onto an Eisenhower matrix. You can use this Eisenhower matrix template from Todoist.

Mismanaging resources

Project managers must know how to strike a balance between overutilization and underutilization. Each end of the spectrum comes with its own set of risks and challenges, and it can be surprisingly easy to slip either direction.

Underutilizing resources in project management happens when the project team’s skills and time aren’t fully leveraged during a project. It also refers to situations where there’s an excess of equipment, materials, and other resources. Overutilization of resources, on the other hand, occurs when personnel, equipment, or materials are pushed beyond their capacity, leading to project failure.

Both underutilization and overutilization are typically the result of poor planning, risk management, or change management. Underutilization often seems more favorable than overutilization, but significant underutilization creates waste and jeopardizes the availability of those resources in the future.

You can avoid underutilization through:

  • Regular skills assessments.
  • Flexible resource management.
  • Continuous monitoring and open communication.

You can avoid overutilization through:

  • Setting deadlines based on risk management and resource availability.
  • Setting work limits for team members.
  • Properly leveraging automation.

How the right software can help your projects run smoothly

The best approach to minimizing mistakes when doing projects relies on being able to recognize these lapses and knowing the right tools to use to carry out tasks.

Project management, at its core, requires careful planning, proactive client management, and judicious use of resources. Outfitting a capable team with the right tools will make it easier to sidestep many common mistakes.

Finding the solution that best fits your needs can be daunting, but our Project Management Software Guide is a good starting point for you and your team.

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