The Worst Project Management Mistakes and How to Prevent Them

Project management is almost always high-stakes. Any time teams are involved, there are multiple ways and reasons elements of the project can get dissolved, go past deadlines, or finish well over budget. There are dozens of ways projects fail; and according to Gallup, most of them do.

The issues are often difficult to pin down accurately, and vary wildly from company to company and team to team. But after reading over a number of significant case studies and statistics, we’ve identified four key mistakes which many projects make…and made suggestions as to how entrepreneurs and small business can avoid the same pitfalls others have fallen into.

Homer Simpson D'oh moment in project management fail

Poor Introductory Planning

Most of us have either been a part of projects with unclear goals, timelines, or resources; and where not all members of the team are on the same page. All of these things are a recipe for poor introductory planning, which will almost guarantee that the project fails in some notable way or other.

Every project should have an identifiable goal to reach or problem to solve. Ideally, any member of the project team should be able to identify the problem or goal in no more than one sentence. Everyone should be on the same page. When the project’s goals lack clarity to the extent that different team members have different ideas of what it is, or it takes them more than a sentence to identify, the project might be too diffuse in scope.

Having a clear mission for a project will ensure that all introductory planning is tight, concise, and clear, and will help eliminate unnecessary complexity. And that’s an important detail! According to the Gallup poll, roughly 35 percent of projects fail because they become too complex.

Growing Project Scope

Sometimes it happens that seemingly simple projects quickly get out of hand. For example, projects to maximize efficiency can grow from just setting browser timers on company computers to entirely changing workplace organization. Called “scope creep”, this problem plagues many projects. But it also sometimes happens that projects grow out of necessity.

The solution here is to create a management process– both for the project, and for any changes to the project. Using project management software like Clarizen or Basecamp can help separate a project into more manageable tasks within their initially-defined scope and limit any organic growth of a project’s scope. And if the team needs to expand the scope of the project, have them do so in a managerial sense, coordinating with supervisors to ensure that any necessary growth can be segmented and easily added to the original project plan. This also guarantees that the team will have approval to use additional resources.

Miscommunication among team members

Poor Team Communication

There are three key areas where failed communications can ruin a project: information circulation, communication timeliness, and communication quality. Especially in a busy or stressful workplace, communication can fail between collaborating team members, meaning important tasks can drag behind completion dates or not receive the thorough checks they should.

Often, project management software can help with these issues, because it ensures that project assets are shared and reminds teammates to communicate before important deadlines. But if your small business isn’t quite big enough for an enterprise solution for project management, consider using business-only social networks or collaboration tools which increase the ease of communication between teammates and allows all individuals to access important files. This is a function even Google documents and chat can serve, if you’re on a budget! Also consider having short daily or weekly meetings between all important parties.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Project management has many hurdles; but often the points of pain between projects can be visible enough from a distance that you (and your firm!) can protect yourself from the worst possible mishaps. Never forget to keep your eye on the ball: the goals and benchmarks of the project. In many cases, just asking yourself “where can this go wrong?” can yield valuable insights on where and how to anticipate failure.