Responses to this are likely to be subjective but I ask of you not "to vent" against your current/ex manager and instead respond to what you think is a managers failing point (or points).

I think the responses here will be a good resource for newly becoming managers with little experience and will make their journey towards experience easier.

  • 1
    @becomingPM, Since this is a very open ended discussion, I suggest this question should be marked as community wiki. Anyway, +1 from me.
    – matrix
    Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 11:28
  • +1 - sort of antipattern of project management. Great question.
    – tehnyit
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 10:48

16 Answers 16


An incompetent PM fails to go to bat for his or her team when the devs are right and the customer is wrong. This doesn't mean that we don't bend over backward to satisfy the customer's needs, but that the PM does have a spine and is looking out for the team's interests. One example of this would be the customer demanding an unreasonable schedule that the team either can't make or can only make through unreasonable amounts of overtime. It's the PMs job to shield the team.

Along with this, a PM who doesn't understand the political landscape or is ineffective in maneuvering through it will struggle. Politics, office and otherwise, are a fact of life and a PM must be adept at building and using political capital for the good of the company and the team. A PM who says the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time and wastes the teams capital is incompetent.

An incompetent PM doesn't know or care about the technology or details of the project. Unless the PM is also a developer, it isn't expected that the PM have the technical background to implement the project, but he/she should have enough to understand the team's problems (and solutions) and be able to accurately represent them to others in non-technical terms.


I'm right now dealing with a PM who claims to be fantastic but yet can't give me answers to the following simple questions: (note, this is a software project)

  • Where is your detailed planning? I only got a delivery date that is 3 months out from now....so how does he know when the project is slipping?
  • Where are your test cases and test results? I believe a PM should know that test cases exist and what the pass/fail ratio is in order to access the project state as well as quality.
  • What's the top 3 issues/bugs the dev team is struggling with at the moment?.....and how long have they been open?
  • I have to force this person to have weekly project update meetings. I believe a PM should be out there like a used car salesman, talking to people and making sure everybody knows where they are, what is expected of them and when things need to be ready, continually distributing information but more importantly.....LISTENING! Especially when working on big projects (many people) or with distributed teams.
  • 11
    'PM who claims to be fantastic', I think this is enough as a sign of incompetence. How can you be good at managing people when you don't know humility. That shows serious lack in human relationships
    – xsace
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 22:37
  • Not communicating
  • Being too scared to make a call on what functionality should get priority and what should be postponed
  • Not planning for change
  • Not being flexible when requirements change
  • Not being able to push back on requirements if they are unrealistic
  • Not being able to "drive" or inspire the team to give more than their average
  • Not likable
  • Not hardworking
  • Not putting the customer first

From my personal experience of working with Project Managers who added value to project and others, who didn't, signs of incompetent project managers might be:

  • using the word resource when referring to people
  • attempts to control and direct members of the project team
  • micro-managing people
  • withholding information to stakeholders or team members (any information)
  • not telling the truth (regardless of what the truth is)
  • not understanding the product that is being build or the technologies used
  • spending more time with documents than with people
  • running long meetings without clear agendas, goals or actions
  • lack of respect for people
  • poor listening skills
  • not understanding the process used to deliver the project
  • belief that they can control the project
  • relays messages between people rather than helping them work together directly
  • 3
    incompetent = lacking qualification. I will have to disagree upon some of these. Don't see how calling your resources a resource instead of people will render a pm incompetent. My though is that a PM who is not able to direct project members and/or control their direction is not a project manager but a member instead. "Spending time with Documents" is part of a well executed plan, time-lines and goals. "controlling project" is in part of PM, give shape to results.
    – Codex73
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 20:02
  • @Codex73: Regarding referring your team as resources... well, come back to us when you do that in front of them. It's not really a morale booster (and more a corollary to lack of respect for people). However I do agree with spending time with documents though, there are a lot of paper work that goes in an organization. A competent PM should be able to remove that paper work from his team.
    – Spoike
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 6:45
  • +1 for "belief that they can control the project, relays messages between people rather than helping them work together directly"
    – oɔɯǝɹ
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 19:30

A successful PM should be good a facilitator and information radiator. If project stakeholders (client, developers, testers, higher management) are not getting regular and correct updates related to the projects then there is a red flag. If tasks usually get stuck at PM's desk then that is not a good sign. If the PM is not verifying where the team/project is heading and if the work done is not of any value to the client then it shows that an incompetent PM is assigned to the project.


Let's make it simple, an incomplete manager will never learn from his mistakes.

Nobody is the perfect PM, we all do mistakes but only those are successful who never repeat them again or at least know how to handle them properly.


The biggest red flag for me is dishonesty. A project manager that conceals, covers up, or intentional avoids telling people about problems or only tells people what they want to hear is going to be a major problem to your key projects.

  • 1
    + 1 for dishonesty ... the biggest bane that I have personally experienced in poor PMs Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 1:15
  • Not listening to others. This is usually the best way to get a true idea of where the project stands.
  • Not being conscious of employee morale when necessary.
  • Not making sure others can do their jobs by resolving any problems.
  • Being too afraid to take initiative to get things done.
  • 1
    +1 for "Not making sure others can do their jobs by resolving any problems." Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 20:49

First note that there is a world of difference between a bad PM and an incompetent one...

An incompetent PM would suffer from one or more of the following (mostly in decreasing order of importance...)

  • Lies, covers or misrepresents the truth (100% deal breaker all the way around)
  • Doesn't understand the business context behind the project, why the project is important, what the success and failure criteria are for the business
  • Unable to control the scope of the project
  • Unable to convey progress or status internally or externally
  • Isn't available or visible to the team
  • Unable to answer basic questions about the project ("Do you have X?" were X are like: "a set of requirements, a list of risks/issues, a budget, a solution/product description, etc."

That said, only the first item is insurmountable. Someone suffering from all the rest can usually get back on track if they are willing to learn and have someone to mentor/coach them.

  • 1
    I think I just worked with this PM on my last project...
    – CaffGeek
    Commented Jul 12, 2011 at 14:50

A lot of Project Managers feel that their job is simply to schedule meetings and maintain a spreadsheet of tasks and issues and then nag developers until the job is complete. But that is just doing the administrative portion of the job. The real value-add of a good project manager is to think. To ask questions and draw out answers from developers and analysts. This helps identify risks, detail accurate timelines, and manage dependencies. Doing these tasks enables the project manager to deliver on time and on budget without having to kill their staff or have last minute fire drills.


First, I think this is a great question for this forum. Second, I think to analyze this one needs to remove the notion of incompetent versus competent, which implies a PM is one or the other. If we are able to plot all of our performance on a frequency chart, most of us would be somewhere in between these two points. Picture a bell curve. Moreover, if you broke down PM to its components, each of us would present with strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. Although they are out there, few are simply incompetent across the board.

Signs of weaknesses (to start the list):

  1. Micro versus macro management. I am not of the camp that micro is always bad. I think management needs to go up and down this continuum based on what is needed with the team at any given time. For example, a new team that is just developing would require more micro-type managing techniques than a high performing team. So a weak PM for me would be one that cannot adjust his/her approach to meet the needs of the team.

  2. Lack of communication and transparency, including the art of listening.

  3. Inappropriate delegation.


An incompetent PM thinks he or she has better technicals skills than any other team member.

A lot of PMs come from development and swith to project management some day. So he or she might be highly technical skilled in the first few months but - especially in IT - things are changing too fast. A good PM should stay informed about technology but also should trust in the skills of the team members.


One that forgets he/she is working with people and instead treats them like raw material on a production line.

When your team individuals are nothing more than friendly names of resources in a Gantt diagram (Resource1 is code name John, resource2 is code name Diana and so one) with no empathy involved whatsoever, then the manager is one big incompetent dude/dudesse.


An incompetent project manager dictates, rather than leads.

They talk about themselves and their plans, rather than inspire, listen and learn.

They default to their estimates and deadlines, rather than factor in the voice of the people doing the work.


Micromanagers - who feel or know that they are potential overhead. And think that compulsive involvement is one convenient way to try and compensate for it.


For me when everything looks fine, executives are happy, projects seem to be finished, but the employees find it hard to get up and go to work.

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