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  • Writer's pictureStefan Oberdieck

The 5 biggest mistakes in project management

And how you can avoid them


I have to admit, it was not easy for me to limit myself to 5 mistakes, because there are a lot of stumbling blocks in project management, which have a big influence on the success or failure of the project. But I have experienced quite a lot in the last 10 years of my professional career and of course I have made some mistakes myself, which I would like to share with you so that you don't have to make them again and save unnecessary work and discussions.

1. Incorrect or inadequate budget planning

For most projects you need a certain budget. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Unfortunately, the budget is usually underestimated. And this concerns especially the pre-investment.

Since investments have to be made before the actual start of the project, people try to keep them as small as possible, because at first glance they have no direct impact on the project and people prefer to wait and place orders only when the need is already acute. However, this only works well until it concerns topics or areas that have a start-up phase.

Software tools are a good example of this. Although these are available relatively quickly, they take some time to implement, depending on their complexity. In addition, these also want to be operated reasonably. If you don't have the professional for this tool in the project team, you have to train the employees first. This can take months.

2. You take yourself too seriously

Of course, as a project manager, you also have a certain amount of competence that you bring with you. But unfortunately, I've seen it often enough that a competent team is put together for complex technical projects, but the project manager is purely a project manager without in-depth technical expertise. In principle, something like this works, but then it is important that you, as the leading function, know where and when it is better to listen to your subject matter experts. And unfortunately, this is exactly what happens far too rarely.

As a project manager, you have a lot to do with statistics, evaluations and overarching topics and very quickly lose contact with the "technical basis". This leads to decisions being made purely on the basis of figures and important technical constraints being ignored. On paper, this even looks good and correct in the short term, but in the medium to long term, the effects of the previously mentioned boundary conditions catch up with you again and you have gone one step forward and two steps back.

That's why you should always talk to your colleagues and make decisions together or at least with the recommendations of technically experienced employees.

3. Incomplete controlling and monitoring

Whether Agile, SCRUM, Waterfall or Kanban; monitoring and controlling is part of every project. In order to keep an eye on the current project progress and to be able to initiate countermeasures in case of deviations, it is important to keep an eye on the current status and the further milestones. This requires measurable attributes that are regularly and carefully maintained.

The planning of a suitable controlling belongs compellingly into the preparation of each project. Otherwise you will not get valid and meaningful results and in the worst case the project will get into trouble without you noticing it.

Nevertheless, it is important not to overdo it. Micromanagement down to the smallest detail not only costs valuable time, but usually also causes resentment in the team. I have often experienced that such measures create a feeling of supervision and that the actual purpose and added value are thus pushed into the background.

4. No or too little communication

Of course, each team member also needs his time alone to complete his tasks. However, I think that continuous active communication is absolutely necessary to lead a project to success.

Even the coffee break, which many bosses don't like, can provide the necessary communication under certain circumstances. It's not for nothing that large companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc. place a lot of value on their office equipment. If the team is motivated and always has the goal in mind, such "breaks" are perfect for brainstorming or the like.

Ultimately, you need a regular exchange in order not to work past each other. Most projects can only be managed in teamwork and this requires a reasonable regular exchange between the employees. This does not necessarily always have to happen face-to-face. Software tools such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom are also well suited for regular exchange, even at great distances. Corona, at the latest, has shown us that it is perfectly possible to work in different locations and still communicate in an uncomplicated manner. Nevertheless, I think that a face-to-face meeting every now and then doesn't hurt. In the end, it should be a good mix of both.

5. Lack of support from higher-level management

Unfortunately, I have also had to experience something like this first hand. You put all your energy and passion into a project and then everything fails because of the lack of support from top management.

Here, however, you should not only look for the fault in the management, but also question yourself. Was the added value of the project not presented clearly enough? Did I even ask for support in advance? Does the project fit with the company's overall goal?

In order not to fall into this trap, it is important to pick up top management early enough and, above all, appropriately. By "appropriate", I mean above all the way in which the information is presented. One should keep in mind that most managers or directors receive countless inquiries and topics on a daily basis and therefore, in the best case, have only memorized excerpts of them. If support is then needed, you may start explaining from the beginning again and can only hope that the other person has had a good day and can follow everything. Therefore, you should prepare so-called "management slides" or even be able to present a prototype. If it then still flashes or even something to touch gives, one has good chances to remain in the memory and to get the necessary support.

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