4 common mistakes that can lead to project failure

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The author spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in technical SEO and Content Marketing.

Project management by its nature is a balancing act. It requires an understanding of many different facets of business, the industry, and the clients overall goal. The most common cause of failure on projects is when this balance is disrupted, usually by neglecting or focusing solely on a single aspect to the detriment of others.

Here are a few of the more common traps project managers tend to fall foul of, which at best will be slightly embarrassing, at worst could send your project down the drain.

1.      Target fixation

Project managers can become so focused on delivering on time that minor little issues such as the quality of the work, the happiness of the team creating it, and usually your ability to extract the best from your team all fly out the window.

This sort of target fixation creates extreme pressure, which in turn you pass on to your team by demanding more from them. This will eventually manifest itself as an unhappy and negative work environment that will rarely produce anywhere near what it’s capable of.

2.      Failure to communicate

Never presume your team members understand the point of project management. Whenever there are gaps in the information we are presented the human brain will try to fill them with assumptions. This means your team will end up with different views of what is happening.

Always provide explanations for the course of action being taken. This not only provides transparency, but it also shows respect to your team, and provides them with an opportunity to raise any concerns or possibly even improve on the course of action. Communicate clearly, communicate often, and communicate honestly to avoid resentment and negativity building within your team.

3.      People pleasing

You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Unfortunately this includes clients and stakeholders too. You must remember to be realistic about the time and budgetary constraints of your project. Often project managers agree to adjustments with the customer that either doesn’t have a realistic timeframe, or pushes the budget to its limit. Be sure when an adjustment is made that reasonable timeframe and budget adjustments are also agreed to compensate for the change. Failure to do so will lead to an unhappy workforce, and ever shrinking profits.

4.      Failure to plan

Leaving the planning to someone else always leads to disaster. A project manager must act as the glue that pulls it all together. Your own planning is what will ensure the project’s success; failure to do so will simply lead to a failing project. Every professional you work with looks at a specific item of the project, often without much consideration for the other aspects that don’t impact directly on them. It is the project manager’s job to keep sight of the bigger picture, whilst ensuring the viability of each smaller aspect; this is one of the most essential project management skills.

It is useful to always have a simple list for reference. Include all the important aspects of the project, and refer to it whenever you’re busy to ensure you’re not neglecting any one aspect.

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Project management has developed into a fully-fledged chartered profession since the granting of the Royal Charter in the UK to The Association for Project Management (APM) in 2017. Training courses for project managers were already available and highly popular to help people gain professional project management accreditation, but with this wider recognition of the profession it is now seen as a desirable career path for many. Whilst the APM has the coveted Royal Charter and continues to develop its APM PMQ (formerly the APMP) programmes, there are also other internationally recognised qualifications that continue to be highly regarded such as PMP and PRINCE2.

Organisations have become increasingly project-focused in this era of rapidly emerging new technologies and they value the expertise that comes with experienced and fully qualified project teams and managers. By investing in their project management capability businesses can be confident of delivering their new projects in time and on budget more often and more successfully. Many major corporation are now training their people to have the right project management qualifications as well as relevant experience, through internal Learning & Development (L&D) programmes; or by using external project management training providers.

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