There are literally hundreds of mistakes we could consider for project managers. For me, I've narrowed most down to three key underlying factors or sources and that's what I'd like to focus on for this discussion. Please think about your own experiences as you read this and feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions...
Poor communication. Good, effective, efficient communication is the number one responsibility of the project manager. I'm not sure you'd find that in every text book or how-to on project management, but you would if I wrote it and you'll find it mentioned in a few hundred of my articles, eBooks and videos. The communication buck starts and stops with the project manager. If communication on the project is poor, sporadic, inconsistent or going to the wrong people, then the project manager is at fault and needs to change his own practices. Or, if it's happening with someone else on the project – he needs to regroup the team and set a new, corrected communication plan in motion. Ideally, a formal communication plan would be put together at the beginning of the project identifying the PM as the main point of contact and the primary source of information gathering and dissemination on the project. This plan would also identify all the key stakeholders on the project and list their email, phone and Skype, etc. contact info and would also document when, how and where ongoing key project meetings would be happening. Short of that – because something like this is not usually a deliverable on smaller projects – a spreadsheet will do the trick...as long as it's made available to all key project stakeholders and revised as needed.
Letting the customer get away. If the project customer is not available then problems can mount on the project. The PM needs to make sure that the customer is engaged from beginning to end on the project. When the project sponsor - or whatever key point of contact has been determined on the customer side of the project - is unavailable for periods of time, they may be getting sucked into their day job responsibilities. We have to remember, this project is a one-off task for them – they likely have other major responsibilities to worry about and be involved in. Don't let them get away – they are needed for project information and decision making. Keep them engaged by keeping them assigned to tasks on the project. And it's ok if you make things up along the way...you must ensure that you have at least some of their attention throughout. Give them tasks that they are expected to report on at every weekly status call. No one likes to look like they are dropping the ball, so that should keep them more frequently engaged on the project and available to you when needed.
Lack of budget awareness. The project manager who does not stay on top of the project budget is in for a big surprise down the road. I've never known a project to stay on budget unless some significant effort and oversight is put into it. I always say that a project budget that is 10% over is much easier to fix than one that is over by 50% and going out of control. Once you've reached that status, it's probably too late. But if you stay aware and review and revise the project budget with project actuals every week you are far less likely to lose control of the budget. And going over budget is one of the key failure points in project management – don't let it happen to you.
Summary / call for input
This is my list...these three are the primary mistakes that I've seen or experienced to cause major problems on projects. These are underlying problems, but still very fixable if corrective action is taken early on.
What about our readers? What do you personally see as major mistakes that project managers make? Let's make a list and discuss...