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6 Project Management Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Anyone who has been in IT for a while has seen a project go south. It either overran the budget, didn’t live up to expectations, or flat out failed.

While some projects take a turn for the worse, many projects are doomed from the start. The Standish Group’s Chaos Report illustrates how poor planning that hampers IT projects from the initial stages. Consider that the average IT project comes in 189 percent over budget — with an average 222 percent time overrun. (Note that’s the average.)

Non-technical departments often have trouble accepting the complexities inherent to IT. How can a simple request need so many resources and so much time to complete? In sum, IT is always expected to deliver miracles.

The following six mistakes are to blame for most IT project failures. By avoiding these pitfalls, your organization can improve its ability to deliver on time and within the budget.

Mistake #1: Not enough communication

There are budgets, timelines, and deliverables that need to be managed. Something’s got to give, right? Maybe you’ll save time by limiting your interactions with team members. Who needs small talk, anyhow?

Big mistake. Don’t neglect the little things. Like communication. The people behind the scenes are too often neglected. But for a project to be successful, team members need effective direction and leadership.

Project managers need to develop soft skills to make them better facilitators. Learn to become a better listener — and know when to be empathetic. More importantly, these skills help you put team members in positions to be successful. You’ll have a better understanding of how they work and what best motivates them.

Be careful about over-communication. Nobody likes being micromanaged. To prevent communication fatigue, involve only appropriate stakeholders in meetings and email chains. Periodic check-ins with all team members and stakeholders helps to avoid team dystopia.

Mistake #2: Failing to use collaboration tools

Not having the resources to track, monitor, and update tasks during projects is a surefire way to sink your success rate. Any experienced PM will tell you, one dropped task can derail an entire project.

The good news is there are plenty of tools designed to make all this easier. Collaboration tools such as JIRA and Trello help improve the efficiency of your project management process. Stakeholders know what’s going on without sitting through excessive meetings. Team members won’t waste time making trips to check statuses. When people know what’s going on, they are empowered to get things done.

Collaboration tools also can create visual roadmaps updated in near real-time while helping to ensure that documentation is complete and available to all. The result is a team that stays in sync with fewer surprises — which is always a good thing.

Mistake #3: Poor prioritization of tasks

When team members are asked to juggle multiple tasks, it’s easy for them to end up prioritizing the wrong tasks. Higher priority tasks then fall down the list, or worse, slip through the cracks.  

People work better when they can concentrate at length on completing one task. At the same time, project managers need to be vigilant in tracking staff activities to ensure priorities are being met according to importance. Priorities also often change during development So, team members should be aware of any shifts in precedence so they can organize their time accordingly.

Prioritizing everything — down to every team member’s task list — keeps projects humming along on schedule.

Mistake #4: Scope creep

There are all sorts of reasons for the scope to creep. They almost all come down to planning, and the ability to say “no.”

To prevent a project from turning into Vaporware, project managers need to take ownership of the end product by evaluating change requests against the mission. In short, they need to just say, “No.” Defining a clear scope is essential. It sets realistic expectations and timelines from the get-go.

Mistake #5: Don’t involve the entire team during planning

Your project is off and running. Or so you thought. A few days in, you’re spending too much time getting stakeholders and project members up to speed on the basic specs. Worst yet, deadlines are being missed due to the lack of clarity.

Unfortunately, it’s common for project managers to get ahead of themselves and spec out a project without seeking enough input. This is why kickoff meetings are essential for every project, no matter how small. They provide an opportunity to get everyone involved with the project into the same room and eventually on the same page. Time and budget estimates are improved when the entire project delivery team is involved as early as possible in the planning stages. By involving appropriate team members during planning, you can avoid creating vague project specifications that manifest into the dreaded “over-promise, under-deliver” scenario.

Mistake #6: Assigning too much at once

Uh oh. The backlog of tasks is piling up. Team members are feeling overwhelmed. As a result, they’re going off on their own to get something, no anything, done. All of a sudden, your perfect project is a mess.

This problem is often a symptom of poorly conceived specifications. A seemingly simple aspect of a project may contain hidden complexities that consume more resources than anticipated. By taking the time to understand the inherent issues that are sure to surface, you can break the project into appropriate steps, keeping priorities focused and aligned

Project managers need to have an open door policy and encourage team members to share feedback and concerns. This openness enables them to have a better sense of who is doing too much. Again, communication is vital, as you’ve noticed throughout this entire piece.

Moving toward success, not disasters

We have little control over the rate at which new projects or change requests bombard our departments. However, we can align our team in a way that minimizes the error rate and increases on-time, on-budget deliveries.

With careful consideration of these common inflection points that guide a project toward disaster, it’s possible to improve our budget and time estimates. Most importantly, we need to deliver results that exceed expectations and make stakeholders happy.


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