April 13, 2023

5 Common Project Management Mistakes to Avoid

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July 6, 2023: We adjusted some tips to be in line with current trends and made stylistic changes for simpler page navigation.

At its heart, project management is about mitigating risks and maintaining predictability. Regardless of what project management strategies are used, your primary task is to make sure the project goes as planned.

One way to ensure this is to avoid common project management mistakes. These mistakes can creep into even the most well-laid plans and impact your project’s success.

Kanban boards, stakeholder management solutions, automated task prioritization, and other project management tools help keep teams on track, minimizing critical project management mistakes that may arise from human error. Still, sometimes, careful planning is all it takes to put a stop to project failures.

1. Not setting clear project goals

Many projects fail because they did not have clear goals at kickoff. Stakeholders might’ve had a desired outcome in mind, but often, that outcome isn’t entirely straightforward. One of the best ways to clarify a murky goal is to hash out helpful key performance indicators (KPIs) or determine what a deliverable would look like at the end of the project before work begins.

Poor goal-setting also happens when there is no consensus among stakeholders about the project’s direction or success criteria during project planning. A change in requirements or an unplanned risk can also cause projects to have unclear goals—so it’s best to pin down as many details as you can during project planning to minimize any issues.

S – Specific: Goals should be well-defined and straightforward, focusing on specific outcomes or achievements.
M – Measurable: Goals should be quantifiable, allowing progress to be objectively measured and evaluated.
A – Achievable: Goals should be realistic and attainable, considering available resources, skills, and constraints.
R – Relevant: Goals should align with broader objectives and be relevant to the overall purpose or mission.
T – Time-bound: Goals should have a defined timeframe or deadline, providing a sense of urgency and accountability.

This is the best way to ensure sound, easy-to-track KPIs, and it creates a clear project path for the whole team.

2. Failing to consider personalities during team selection

The seventh edition of the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) mentions that a team is more than a set of hands. That means every member of your project team has two roles:

  • A functional role based on their skills.
  • An emotional role based on how they fit into the team’s culture (Do they engender trust, empower teammates, etc.?)

The best teams don’t just have the right mix of skills—they also have the right mix of personalities. After all, if your team members can’t get along with each other, you can’t really expect them to finish a project successfully or collaborate well, regardless of their skills.

“The dynamics of interpersonal relationships depend on individuals’ personalities, not on hard skills or expertise,” wrote Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Dave Winsborough in Harvard Business Review. “The only way to create a team that’s worth more than the sum of its individual contributors is to select members on the basis of personality, soft skills, and values.”

This isn’t exactly a new belief in project management. Experienced managers might already be familiar with personality-focused team models, such as Belbin’s 9 Team Roles. These models divide team members into different roles based on their personalities, values, and energy levels.

Team members might have different roles, such as:

  • Managing stakeholder relationships.
  • Evaluating results, following best practices, and keeping the project on track.
  • Motivating the team and challenging them to perform better.

Selecting for personality and skill ensures your people perform well not just as individuals but also as a team.

3. Not reporting necessary data

Successful project management will usually rely on effective and meaningful reporting. Routinely failing to dig into project reports will come back to haunt any project manager sooner or later, if tasks fall through the cracks or unaddressed roadblocks crop up down the line. You need to have some kind of information to keep these kinds of hiccups from happening—preferably before they become large and noticeable issues.

If there’s a bit of a bottleneck somewhere in the process, tasks will most likely pile up. It may be a minor issue at first, but over time, that pile could get bigger and bigger, causing longer and longer delays.

Track whatever metrics will be most valuable for your project and its processes. And if you spot something that feels like it could be an issue, add a metric to keep a closer eye. You can track how many days an item sits in each status or process step, then compare the numbers to see what needs attention and improvement.

project management mistakes

4. Prioritizing “urgent” over “important” tasks

The Eisenhower Matrix is taught by the Project Management Institute to this day because being mired in urgent tasks has been the bane of project managers for decades. An Eisenhower Matrix is an excellent tool when creating a to-do list at the beginning of the day, but it can be difficult to prioritize tasks correctly as time goes on.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a productivity tool that helps prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance. It categorizes tasks into four quadrants: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and not urgent and not important.

Project managers need to be able to separate the urgent from the important to avoid spinning their wheels in “urgent” muck. Sticking to a project plan and effectively delegating small fires to team members will keep a project on schedule and within budget.

Project management tools that have built-in task prioritization will take the mental load off of project managers and their teams, allowing them to efficiently meet project needs in order.

Here are some project management tools with task management feature:

  • Trello
  • Basecamp
  • Asana
  • Jira
  • monday.com

5. Not managing scope creep proactively

Scope creep is the addition of features, functions, or tasks to the development process that were not previously included in the initial project scope. When the project scope grows out of control, teams will find themselves over budget and over schedule, and the morale hit can fray in-office relationships in the long run.

Scope creep usually happens when there is no consensus on the project scope. If stakeholders and managers have different expectations, one party is liable to over-ask or over-charge the other.

Preventing scope creep demands proactive change management. You need to keep a close eye on every change request and keep stakeholders alerted to the same. When a project team is able to offer data-backed explanations for rejecting a request or change, most clients will understand.

This approach also gives teams the opportunity to discuss realistic alternatives that will head off the threat of creeping scope altogether while maintaining the flexibility project management often requires.

The right software can help keep your projects afloat

Project management is a difficult science. It requires careful planning, proactive client management, and judicious use of resources. However, kanban boards and Gantt charts alone are not enough to flawlessly execute a project plan and avoid common mistakes.

Outfitting an attentive team with an arsenal of flexible, user-friendly tools will make it easier to sidestep many roadblocks with ease. Finding the perfect solution for a project can be daunting, but our Project Management Software Guide is a simple starting point for you and your team.

Related articles


What is a task management software?

Task management software is a tool that helps project managers organize, assign, and track tasks and projects. It allows for task creation, prioritization, monitoring, and streamlining workflow, thus improving productivity.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is the use of technology to automate repetitive and manual tasks within a project. It involves designing a sequence of steps and rules that automate the flow of information or tasks, reducing human effort, improving efficiency, and minimizing errors in routine operations.

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1 monday.com

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2 Quickbase

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