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7 min read

10 mistakes most project managers make

Errors aren’t necessarily bad, but they don’t always have to happen. Avoid pitfalls by learning 10 of the most common project management mistakes.
From Team '23

Tempo Team

Sometimes, even the most adept project managers make mistakes, regardless of their methodology or project management professional (PMP) certification. After all, mistakes happen, as the age-old saying goes. They’re an inevitable part of life but not something to dread. In fact, some would argue that managers learn more by recovering from their missteps than by relishing in their successes.

In other words, when seen from a certain point of view, project management errors often inspire growth and innovation.

Slipups aren’t the end of the world, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t aim to sidestep them whenever possible. Here’s a list of the most often-repeated project management mistakes and some strategies to prevent them.

10 common project management mistakes and how to avoid them

1. Not identifying all stakeholders

Projects are a group effort and can only succeed in delivering their outcomes if the project manager considers the team and everyone impacted by the work, including:

  • Customers

  • Employees

  • Investors

  • Suppliers

  • Communities

  • Governments

These groups are stakeholders. Failing to understand who they are and incorporate their expectations into the planning phase can undermine or derail project success. 

By identifying all invested parties and understanding their priorities, you can create a stakeholder management plan to better communicate with them and oversee their involvement in the project.  

2. Not being 100% clear on requirements

Projects transform the conceptual into the concrete. That’s impossible if you can’t compare the vision to reality. During the project planning phase, you must meet team members and key stakeholders to finalize a list of requirements. These components will form the basis of the project scope and act as success benchmarks. 

3. Allowing scope creep

Once project planning is complete and you’ve received approval from management, you might think it’s clear sailing. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Someone may invariably ask about tweaking the project requirements. Some of these requests are legitimate, like adjusting the scope to respond to new economic factors. Others result from ill-defined requirements or change for the sake of change. Regardless of the source, you’re now facing scope creep.  

The best way to prevent unplanned scope alterations from scuttling your project is to implement a change management protocol. The process documents each request, and the project manager analyzes the need for the change and its impact on resources, budgets, and other factors. Based on the evaluation, the request is approved or declined, and management communicates the results to the project team.  

Establishing a defined process for dealing with scope creep affords leadership the flexibility to pivot when needed and ensures the project plan remains aligned with its original objectives.

4. Not taking risk management seriously

No matter how well-planned, every project faces risks like:

  • Changing priorities

  • Issues in the supply chain

  • Pressure from competitors

  • Increased or decreased demand

  • Personnel changes

One effective strategy for preparing for such snags is simply acknowledging their probability, or in other words, managing project risk. Planning for everything that could go wrong is impossible, but planning for the most likely scenarios? Definitely doable.

Conduct a risk assessment with your team to identify potential roadblocks and threats the group could encounter, then develop an action plan to mitigate each possibility. Once complete, assign a team member to monitor and raise a red flag if they see the threat materializing. 

Establishing a risk management plan will prepare your team and give you peace of mind throughout your project’s planning and execution phases. 

5. Not using the right project management tools

Projects involve holding meetings, sharing information across multiple platforms, tracking changes, and creating a record of activities. All these tasks generate a “paper trail” that needs to be tracked and managed. Using the wrong tools can result in failing to keep project documentation centralized, leading to chaos. 

Instead, leverage an integrated suite of project management software to centralize and communicate project reports, which breaks down silos between working groups. The free flow of information builds transparency and visibility, ensuring project alignment among team members. 

Others to consider are project planning tools, time-tracking applications, and resource management software. 

6. Unrealistic deadlines

There’s no denying deadlines are significant in project success. Setting a deadline that’s too tight could result in your team rushing and making mistakes, while an over-generous timeline might lead to putting off tasks until the last minute and scrambling to produce the desired outcome. 

When establishing a project schedule, determine your team’s size. Knowing who you’re working with and for how long helps review workloads to ensure no one feels overwhelmed. Take vacations and time off into account when setting the timeline so nothing interferes with your schedule. Also, generate an accurate estimate of task durations by reviewing past projects and consulting with more experienced colleagues and teammates. Once you know how long the work should take in hours, days, or months, pad the schedule by adding 5–50% extra time, depending on the team’s familiarity with the project. With the added slack, your team will have breathing space to address unexpected challenges without impacting the deadline.

7. Poor resource management 

Whether you’re a start-up or an enterprise-level company, you can’t afford to squander a project’s assets. Resource management is critical and isn’t limited to materials and budgets. It also includes the following:

  • Staff

  • Technology

  • Facilities

  • Equipment and tools

  • Time

Identifying and building team alignment in support of high-priority project requirements helps you direct resources to ensure the completion of those items first. Without understanding priorities, project management could distribute assets equally across tasks, exhausting reserves before completion and leading to project failure.

8. Undermining time management

Working long hours under stressful timelines isn’t sustainable. It’s crucial – not only for the project's success but also for your team’s well-being. Faulty time management, if unchecked, can lead to staff turnover, talent loss, and burnout.

Establish clear priorities for your team so they place the greatest importance on every task, giving it their all until there’s nothing left to give and avoiding stress and overwork.  

Host weekly check-ins to ensure your team addresses the right priorities and meets the project schedule. You can also deploy project management software to track time spent on each task to help maximize time and resources. 

Finally, make your team feel valued by organizing realistic workloads and doing your best to reduce project stress. Because when staff feel appreciated, they’re more productive. 

9. Not learning from failure

Sometimes, you can’t prevent projects from going off the rails. It can’t be helped, and that’s OK. But don’t waste time blaming others or moving on like nothing happened. If you do that, you’ve missed an opportunity to learn. 

Instead, seek lessons to help avoid this pitfall in the future. Ask yourself questions like, “How did the original plan fail,” “What did it teach us,” and “How can we prevent or anticipate similar problems in the future?” Document the answers to remind yourself of what you learned and offer insight to project managers who come after you. 

10. Poor communication

Poor communication is the father of all project management mistakes. From missed milestones to scope creep and mishandled resource management, it's often the root cause of a project going wrong. Leaders can avoid most of these errors by providing team members and stakeholders with a communication channel through project management software to review documentation, ask questions, and confer with each other. 

You can also work on your communication style to help ensure the information you share is clear and detailed. Avoid using technical jargon and complex language when speaking or writing so your audience can relate to the information transmitted. Finally, always encourage your team to ask questions and share insights. Remember, discussion helps teams align with the project goals. 

How Tempo can help with project management

Solve your communication issues and avoid common project pitfalls by integrating Tempo Roadmaps into your existing project management tool. Roadmaps will create an audience-friendly roadmap to help you and your team visualize your project plan. 

By illustrating the project, you can easily communicate dependencies, priorities, and workflows to the group and build alignment behind your management strategy. You’ll also have the insight necessary for effective resource management, ensuring each task is allocated assets according to priority and timing. Roadmaps has everything you need to deliver a successful project.