Best Practices

7 Costly Mistakes Made by New (and Veteran) Project Managers 

While every project is different, the same key components for project managers often dictate success or failure: creating realistic expectations, negotiating stakeholder priorities and accurately capturing the full scope of work.  

In a perfect world, these things would all happen seamlessly and every project would finish early and under-budget. But we all know that most often that’s just not the case.  

Whether you’re new to project management or a seasoned pro, take heed of these seven common project management mistakes to avoid missing deadlines, going over budget and contributing to overall project failure.  

Mistake #1: Not clearly defining success prior to starting the project  

If one stakeholder feels strongly that launching by a particular date is the measure of success while another is solely focused on increasing market share, you’re in for a nightmare when it comes to managing priorities and expectations.  

Avoid battling stakeholders by ensuring everyone has a common definition of success prior to kicking off.  

Start by identifying who is most important to this project and defining their interests and expectations. This will allow you to agree on clear and measurable business goals that can be tracked and measured throughout the project lifecycle.  

Mistake #2: Not defining when a product will be ready for release  

In addition to defining measures of success, it’s vital to a project’s success to clearly define when a product will be finished and ready to make its debut before embarking on development.  

When stakeholders have different definitions of when a product is ready to be released, you’re sure to run into tension and frustrations across the board.  

To avoid this, decide what criteria will indicate whether your product is ready for release early in the process. Make sure the criteria are realistic, objectively measurable, documented and most importantly, mutually agreed upon.  

Mistake #3: Making commitments you’re not sure you can keep 

As a project manager, you’re no stranger to mounting pressure. With that said, one of the biggest (and easiest) mistakes a project manager can make is committing to deliverables or timelines that aren’t positively doable. The key here is to have good-faith negotiations with team members, managers and stakeholders and agree on goals that are realistically achievable.  

When things inevitably change (like budget or resources) or you run into unanticipated problems, be upfront and clear as soon as you know that things have shifted.  

Having these tough conversations and realigning commitments with everyone involved is the best way to avoid disappointment and frustration. 

Mistake #4: Misestimating timelines  

Projects never go 100% as planned. However, as a project manager, it’s your job to anticipate what might happen throughout the product development cycle (good and bad) and give your best estimated timeline.  

The good news is that you’re not alone. Many commercial tools are available to help you estimate entire projects. These solutions give a spectrum of possible timelines to help you get a better idea of how things might shake out based on the project’s breadth and depth. 

Mistake #5: Failing to plan for rework after a quality control activity  

Speaking of misestimating timelines… many project managers make the dire mistake of not planning for additional work after a quality control activity.  

While we all hope that we get it right the first time, the reality is that almost all quality control activities find needed improvements.  

To stay on the safe side, great project managers always include time for rework after every single quality control event. The best part? If there isn’t any rework that needs to happen, you’ll be ahead of schedule and you’ll look like a rockstar.  

Mistake #6: Failing to track progress throughout the entire project 

When stakeholders ask for an update on the project, you’ll want to be a specific as possible. This is only possible if you track the progress of the project throughout the entire lifecycle. The reality is, unless you record the actual effort or time spent on each project task — and compare them to the estimates — those estimates will just be guesses. 

As project managers, we sometimes give project updates that are misleadingly optimistic (see above). Remember, you can only manage a project effectively when you really know what’s done and what isn’t, what tasks are falling behind and what issues and risks still need to be tackled. 

Mistake #7: Not learning from past projects  

Expanding on mistake #6, another downfall for project managers is failing to conduct a project retrospective (AKA postmortem) following the completion of a project.  

If you tracked your progress meticulously and thoroughly throughout the entire project, you should be able to glean some vital lessons that you can take with you into your next project. Take note of what went well, what didn’t go well, what surprised you and what you still might not understand.  

This information will help guide you in your next project and allow you to create better time estimates and set realistic expectations.     

As a project manager, you’re the key communication hub between team members, managers and stakeholders. The success of a project can often be directly related to a project manager’s ability to effectively manage requirements and expectations, communicate with all parties involved clearly and concisely and direct the project when adaptations need to be made.  

Want to learn more about successfully managing every project? Check out our eBook “Project Management Best Practices” for 21 tips on taking the pain out of project management.