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Getting started in the role of project manager is not always easy. Are there some common mistakes that you see newer project managers making that can be avoided (e.g. trying to take on too much themselves, or allowing problems to linger too long before addressing them)?

18 Answers 18

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In my opinion a big problem is that you try to solve the problems yourself and not manage the project. Your job as a project manager is to lead the people who do the actual work (of course this depends on the size of the project, in small projects you will have a technical role too).

Another one is that you underestimate soft factors (and therefore soft skills). You can have as many technical tools as you like - in the end project management is people business!

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    Managers should manage the project and the people working at the project. They should focus the people working on a project in the right direction and coach and guide them into reaching the best results possible with as little resources spent. – CodingBarfield Jul 28 '11 at 9:15
  • Can someone give me an example? Their job is to manage the project. If they don't do, the who do? – Ooker Jan 25 '17 at 17:08
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One big mistake new (and experienced) project managers make is not managing risks. Just sitting down to think about them, brainstorm them, and log them is a huge improvement over doing nothing.

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    +1 Drawing up a Risk Assessment sheet with Risks, Impact, Likelihood and mitigation strategy would cover this, as long as it is consulted periodically throughout the project. – JBRWilkinson Feb 8 '11 at 17:26
  • @JBRWilkinson Unless you're doing waterfall, it's definitely more than just a high-level sheet of likely risks to the project. You should evaluate for every major task the degree to which there's a potential for it to be more work than expected. – Brian Gordon Apr 4 '15 at 5:45
  • Fell into this trap. KEEP A RAID LOG! – bobo2000 Feb 16 '17 at 15:20
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While many new project managers understand the project goal, many fail to understand personal objectives of those on his/her team. Some people call this understanding personalities; others call it managing politics.

Within a team, team members may have different personal objectives including:

  • Shipping a product
  • Learning a new technology
  • Have a reasonable work schedule so they can spend time with family

The new project manager's challenge is to meet the project objectives while making sure members are engaged, motivated, and putting their best effort. The only way to do this is to make sure the team's personal objectives are being met.

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One mistake made (that is not entirely the fault of the project manager) is being promoted into a project management role without having the right skills. This happens frequently in IT (some companies even tout it as a "career path") where someone who spent the last 20 years developing software becomes a project manager.

And he might have no idea about what it takes to manage a team, a schedule, or to deal with external parties (stakeholders, project sponsor, customers).

While tutoring and the right tools can help, fundamentally, project management is an entirely different discipline. You wouldn't let a doctor start operating without years of study and training, so why let a project manager do it without even assessing basic skills?

As a project manager, you need to understand your own weaknesses and overcome them. If you're put in this position, read, read, read. And then read some more. And consult heavily with your peers to avoid making costly mistakes.

  • +1 because you pointed exactly what my company has done on more than one occasion. – kdub Jun 16 '12 at 15:54
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Reinventing The Wheel

Most problems have previously been solved before by other people in your organization. Consulting with a senior PM helps bring perspective and teaches old solutions to your "new" problems. One of my senior PM's has been managing projects my entire life. He knows a thing or two. Someone like this is invaluable helping new PM's avoid reinventing the wheel, as well as spinning them.

If you are new, you need help. Find someone you can meet with to spend 10 minutes every few days discussing the most critical problems you are facing. Usually, as a new PM you won't have a very long leash anyway...so there will be someone checking in with you. In the case that your organization is trying you by fire, the smartest thing you can do is get advice from someone with more experience. If you think that you will be bother that person too much, find a couple of people and spread the love.

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One of the most common mistakes is not recognising that tools are just that and as such you need to pick the correct tool for the project you are working on. Not to be blindly led by the methodology that you have just learned/is flavour of the month.

I know I did that quite a bit when I started out, thinking a new tool was the silver bullet I was looking for and not recognising that I just needed to pick the correct tool for the job at hand, and that is truly only something that comes with experience (at least in my case).

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I made a video about this called "ten mistakes team leaders make" but it applies here as well.

  1. Not recognizing the needs of the team from the current leader. For example if the team is required to be self organizing, but do not have the skills to solve their own problems.
  2. Fear of delegation. (micro management)
  3. Fear of engagement. Fearing confronting people and talking about the real issues iwth upper management, or your team members.
  4. Placating. Telling others what they want to hear ("yes, we can make that deadline" even when you can't)

  5. Being Irrelevant. Being away in meetings, playing clown, or not being involved.

  6. Being Super Reasonable. Assuming that what is in your head is fully in the heads of others. That everyone understands exactly what you mean, even if you wrote it in three sentences in an email.

  7. Blaming. Even in your head. Telling the story for the other side without actually talking to them (an example of fearing engagement)

  8. Ignoring Influence Forces. Not knowing what makes people behave the way they do, and what you could change to affect behavior is a big piece of the puzzle.

  9. Fear of Assertiveness. I see that a lot in scandinavia for example.
  10. Perpetuating non commitment. For example leaving a meeting without everyone knowing what they are going to do and by when. Not using a commitment driven language (we could vs. I will, for example)
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Make sure that you nail down the scope of the Project at the very beginning. Get confirmation from the key stakeholders that their view of the scope is in line with yours. Get early sign off to your Project Management Plan and draft your stakeholder plan (including a RACI) as a first priority. Thereafter stakeholder management (and hence engagement) should be straightforward.

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As many have answered the question from their point of view I am not going to repeat them but add one more that I thing is prevalent widely in IT. Micro management. I know the PM is new or it may be his/her first project, and they try to constantly ping the team for status, being opinionated on every task the team members complete and over motivating the employees. They too need their space and time to think.

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I consider I entered the management side too early on my career and without the proper training before hand. Looking back this is what I believed I failed at:

  1. Not creating more leaders. As a newly made PM I thought the PM chair was for me and only for me, later on I understood I needed more people next to me to make the right calls, as well as training more people to have the right conversations and continuously improve a project.
  2. Not building a team, and prefer office co-workers I understand sometimes it is close to impossible due to people working remote or other personal matters, yet building a team should be one of the main priorities of the PM, everyone and business itself gets huge benefits from a highly motivated and cohesive team.
  3. Hiring with hard skills over soft skills Soft skills can maintain a team together when a challengue surpasses the hard skills. Commonly known as "Divas" with a high set of hard skills can easily destroy your project and break a team in no time.
  4. Failing to provide constant goals and motivation for a team We all need motivation, we all need goals - for me - the PM should always be reminding the team of where they are going, creating and reaching milestones, asking for input and adjust according to personal motivations within the team. Don´t leave it on a crappy PPT at the start of the year that no one will remember by Q2.
  5. Not delegating tasks A basic one, yet one that is easily overlooked. It is hard to let things go sometimes, yet a PM needs to delegate accordingly to balance out the work and trust the team members.
  6. Micro-managing Another basic one but that is find way too often. A PM needs to be able to open communication and create activities to gain trust within and from the team, this does not mean checking everything and deciding how everything should be done.
  7. Treat every team the same Many PMs come with straight out of the book ideas or plans that will not necessarily work with the team at hand. Seasoned PMs understand that every team is different, and that what worked for team A, doesn´t necessarily work for team B. A PM needs to adjust and be open enough to experiment and make whatever it takes to make the team work and grow together. Same applies to each team member, what improved the work of team member A will not necesarrily do the cut for team member B.
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Not using task management software! It is very important for those involved on a project to have a 'home base' to refer to. Emails work to an extent, but can quickly pile up into a chaotic mess of info with important elements slipping through the cracks. Having an organized task entered into a task management program can efficiently display all important info, revisions, attachments, etc.

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    As much as I'd agree with having a place where the work is organized I definitely wouldn't insist on software. Kanban board or task board is often more effective tool. – Pawel Brodzinski Nov 3 '12 at 12:26
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The biggest mistake I found was to assume certain parameters about a project instead of using a DDD approach or writting down every aspect of a project for the client / entity to check if it's correct. Most of the projects comes a time when you realise certain things that were ommited had a purpose / certain needs that you hadn't think of before, ruining timelines and changing the value of the project.

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I think one of the biggest problems is not having a disciplined approach to risk management. It is not a well publicized area of PM, but it can have a big impact on project success. even a very simple risk management plan which just takes a few hours may avoid all sorts of problems down the road.

This is even more true for new project managers than experienced ones, as they are not at all familiar yet with everything that can go wrong.

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Not using task management software at all is undoubtedly a big problem. However the usage of a tool that doesn't fully correspond to the needs of the company might turn out to be even a bigger problem. Project managers have to be very careful when it comes to choosing software. Bare in mind the size of your team, your budget and the features that your business needs in the first place.

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Managers, especially new ones, are often unprepared for the job because they are so used to being an individual contributor and not responsible for other people. The hardest skills in business (and life) are working with other people because everyone has different motivators and a different view of how work should be done. As a manager, your job is to engage your team, make sure everyone knows what their responsibilities are and ensure that everyone is meeting their deadlines. Executives will blame you if something goes wrong, even if it’s your team’s fault. If you don’t perform as a manager it’s not just costly to you, but to your company as well. Your direct reports will leave and you will be charged with replacing them, which takes time and will frustrate you. Here are the top mistakes I see managers making most frequently: - See more at:http://www.transtutors.com/homework-help/management/managing-information-technology/information-system/project-management-software/

  1. Not Learning From Past Mistakes
  2. Not Enough Planning
  3. Too Much Planning
  4. Trying To Do It Alone
  5. Not Enough Resources
  6. Allowing the Scope to Creep
  7. Not Enough Risk Management
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Communication is a KEY factor in successfully managing a project. Failing to communicate on a regular basis is big mistake. To help organize communications, devise a Communication Plan that includes different schedules and formats depending on the target audience.

Know your audience and communicate effectively to that audience. This means that the same message needs to be adapted appropriately to the target audience... bullet points for C-levels, detailed specs for the technical team, etc.

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Mistakes that I see often:

  1. not keeping a running list of Risks and not being able to manage those risks effectively
  2. always saying yes and never controlling change which leads to scope creep
  3. not creating small clear milestones (this is why Agile and SCRUM use sprints, to force these milestones to be created!)
  4. no proper monitoring of a project; no idea if 100% or 50% or 0% of a milestone is completed, no idea who has knowledge of which area of a project, no idea what stakeholders are expecting
  5. no closing of a project; there are some tasks that have to be done at the close of a project and they're usually just not kept track of at all. Handing things off to another team means you have to document things for them.
  6. not using time buffers to allow people to work on some necessary tasks for a limited time (think bug fixing for software with a minimum of 2 days and a potential maximum of 30 days in the schedule).
  7. not building holidays/training into schedules, hard to work on a project when you expect 100% of resources to be available!

Most of these mistakes stem from the fact that there has been no formal education in project management techniques and tools and possibly no interest in learning those.

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The biggest problem I have encountered is that organisations send people on PRINCE2 training and then expect them to be able to manage projects. The mistake the newbie (PRINCE2 trained) project manager makes is trying to go it alone in the forlorn belief that PRINCE2 is all they need.

  • The second sentence answers the OP, but I think that if it is to be useful to the new PM, it needs to be expanded a bit (particularly for the non-British audience, who aren't acquainted with PRINCE2) – Mark C. Wallace Nov 16 '12 at 11:44

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