It is unfortunate that many project managers make basic mistakes and don’t put in place a solid foundation based on which the project can progress. This, amongst other factors, is preventing them from stepping up and becoming project leaders.

Project leaders know that projects must be rooted in a logical and structured approach to delivery, as without it everything else falls apart. If we do not have a solid method for defining and controlling the project’s scope, benefits, deliverables, costs, quality, risks, and responsibilities, the project is unlikely to be successful even if the project manager is excellent at leading and motivating people. It is true that people deliver projects, but processes support them in doing so.


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Below is a list of the most classic mistakes that project managers make when it comes to the more process-related aspect of the job. Are you guilty of making any of these mistakes too?

1. Not Paying Sufficient Attention to the Planning Stages of the Project

… being too eager to start building and developing without knowing what the end game is and how to get there is a classic mistake. Project managers succumb to pressure from senior stakeholders who don’t understand the importance of planning and who have a naïve hope that the project can be delivered quicker if the planning stage is reduced.

2. Lack of Attention to the Project’s Business Case

…many project managers fail to ensure that there is a sound rationale for undertaking the project. They assume, often incorrectly, that the business case has been completed by senior management and don’t see the bigger picture, commercially and strategically. Unfortunately, this also means that projects oftentimes aren’t aligned with the organization’s strategic objectives.

3. Not Completing an Accurate Project Charter

…many project managers operate at a surface level and leave out important information in the charter or project initiation document. They fail to uncover what the project will deliver in detail and how it will go about delivering it. They also make the mistake of not walking the stakeholders through the information in the charter; they simply chase a signature as opposed to gaining people’s genuine buy-in for this important planning document.

4. Not Using Product-Based Planning Techniques

…many project managers fail to make use of intuitive product-based planning techniques, such as product breakdown structures and product flow diagrams. They don’t involve the team in the planning process and plan for the far future in too much detail. Oftentimes they fail to split the project into shorter phases with clear outcomes and deliverables that can provide early successes and benefits to the users.

5. Unclear Scope and Lack of Detailed Requirements

scope descriptions are often vague and open to interpretations and not enough thought has been given to what is out of scope. Requirements are documented at too high a level, they are not baselined and changes aren’t tracked, assessed, or incorporated into the project in a structured manner. The result is scope creep, or in the worst case a project which fails to deliver what the customer needed.

6. Underestimating the Project’s Effort;

…it is a classic mistake that project managers underestimate the project’s effort, either as a result of not appreciating what needs to be delivered, or as a result of poor estimation processes. They are often too optimistic; failing to challenge the estimates given to them and leaving out contingency to cover for risks and uncertainties.

7. Poor Risk Management Processes

…not paying sufficient attention to effective management of risks is yet another classic mistake. Risk management often ends up as a mechanical tick-box exercise without any real impact. The most important risks aren’t identified, owners and mitigating actions aren’t assigned and the project team doesn’t have a risk management culture.


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8. Not Setting Up a Clear Governance Structure

… many stakeholders get appointed to the project board or steering committee without being explained what their roles and responsibilities are and what it entails to be the executive body of the project. In some cases, the steering committee hasn’t been officially formed and doesn’t meet on a regular basis.

9. Not Making use of Key Performance Indicators

…many project managers fail to track and control the project through earned value metrics. They report on project progress in a non-scientific way and don’t understand the power of KPIs. This includes keeping track of the project’s financials compared to budget as well as products delivered compared to plan.

10. Insufficient Attention to Quality

…not paying attention to the quality of the project’s deliverables is a huge mistake that can have detrimental effects. Many project managers never get around to completing the quality plan, they don’t engage in an independent QA function, don’t make use of peer reviews, fail to incorporate user feedback early in the process, and don’t use prototyping and iterative development as a way to reduce risk and improve quality. Instead, they deal with the fallout and assign more people to deal with the defect.

Please don’t fall victim to these fundamental process-related mistakes. We can do better than that!


Susanne Madsen is an internationally recognized project leadership coach, trainer, and consultant. She is the author of the award-winning book The Power of Project Leadership.


Susanne Madsen The power of project leadership




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