5 Common Mistakes in Project Management (And How to Avoid Them)

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” - Henry Ford
By Phoebe Perelman Aug 10, 2020
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Some of the most prominent figures in history have acknowledged the importance of learning from mistakes. However, their words of wisdom do not make personal failure any less scary. The good news is, you can also learn from the mistakes of others, which is why we’re documenting five common project management failures and how you can avoid them. Our hope is that you’ll live vicariously through these common mistakes in project management in order to steer clear of them in the future. 

Mistake #1: Setting vague goals

Every project starts with one primary goal. It’s up to the project manager to assess whether or not that goal is attainable, comprehensible and measurable. Clients may think that their goals are specific, but they almost always need to be adjusted. For example, “Spread awareness about Company X’s new product” is not a productive project goal. In contrast, “Spreading awareness on Instagram by increasing engagement by 15% by January 1, 2021” is much more precise. This is only step one. Next, the primary goal needs to be broken down into bite-sized, actionable objectives for relevant team members to act on. Set smart goals and set your team up for success.

Mistake #2: Improperly documenting the plan

A list isn’t gonna cut it. Even if a project seems linear, there are too many moving parts to track without in-depth documentation. The current best practice amongst project managers is the tried and true Gantt chart. Gantt charts track tasks, task dependencies, timeline, budget, and resources. With so much at stake, we also encourage you to create a quality management plan (QMP). Quality management plans define quality standards in relation to project objectives and provide procedures for quality control and quality assurance. QMPs also assign responsibility to specific team members for each quality-based deliverable. Detailed documentation keeps the tasks flowing and the team on track. 

Mistake #3: Forgetting to delegate tasks

The most competent project managers have forgotten that they are not a one-person team. Many project mistakes can be avoided by delegating. Involving your team in the planning process will not only benefit you, but the project itself. Diverse ideas and perspectives lead to a more comprehensive outcome according to the wisdom of crowds theory. “This is the idea that large groups of people are collectively smarter than individual experts when it comes to problem-solving, decision making, innovating, and predicting.” Including your team also builds rapport and encourages early project buy-in — so don’t let your pride interfere with your team’s potential. 

Mistake #4: Falling victim to scope creep

One of the most common project management issues involves scope creep, but you don’t need to fall victim to it! Scope creep refers to the fact that projects inevitably evolve over time. What started as one task may turn out to be five tasks after the first month of work, no matter how specific your initial project scope was. Experienced project managers prepare for change by including an ‘out of scope’ section in the project scope. Additional tasks require additional time and money, so it’s imperative to account for this from the get-go. And when something truly falls outside of the scope of the project — say so! Identify that, document it somewhere to address at a future date, and move on. These boundaries are critical to project success.

Mistake #5: Stressing out 

Last, but certainly not least, remain calm. It can be challenging to keep your cool when project management goes wrong, but this is the most critical time to maintain composure. A stressed manager leads to a stressed and unmotivated team. VitalSmarts found that “teams led by hotheaded managers were 56% more likely to shut down and stop participating.” Project managers have a lot on their plate and many hats on their head; stress is expected, but it’s how you deal with it that matters. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or take a break. Mental and emotional well-being are directly related to success; do what you need to do to maintain a positive headspace if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Mistakes happen, no matter how prepared you are. By keeping these most common mistakes in mind for your next project, we hope you’ll cut down on inefficiencies and be ready for anything.

Looking to avoid as many mistakes as possible? Get organized with CROOW, a project management platform made for creative collaboration.