Project management is a challenging and complex role. It requires attention to detail, strategic vision, people management, unmatched communication skills and more — which is why even the most experienced project managers still mess up from time to time. Here are five project management missteps project managers of all levels make, and how you can prevent them or recover quickly.
1. Focusing Too Much on the Work and Too Little on the People Doing It
More than anything else, project management is people management. Project managers are responsible for leading and motivating team members, helping them overcome obstacles, and empowering them to do their best work. But it can be all too easy to become wrapped up in the details of scope creep, deadlines and documentation, losing focus on the human portion of the project. If you find yourself feeling disconnected from your team, take a step back and refocus on what truly matters. Go out to lunch with your co-workers or simply drop by to visit them; getting some quality time with your team will help re-humanize the project and keep your priorities in check.
2. Not Addressing Project Issues Head On
Handling conflict is one of the more uncomfortable parts of a project manager’s role, even for expert project managers, but it’s also hugely important. Project managers are responsible for sniffing out any project problems, bringing them to the attention of the team and creating an environment where the team can overcome the issue together. Not calling out problems will poison a project and lead to bigger challenges down the road. If there’s something your team is struggling with, don’t hide it; confront it. Having and overcoming difficult conversations will build trust on your team, and that trust will make you stronger and closer than you were before.
3. Not Learning From Failure
A project manager should always be guiding his or her team to learn from mistakes and avoid repeating them. Typically this learning takes place in post-mortems — project regroups where a team can get together to authentically discuss what went well, what went wrong, and how to replicate success and avoid failure. But when you’re a senior project manager juggling a dozen projects, it can be tough to find time to plan for, prepare and host a post-mortem. While it takes time to prep a post-mortem, the time you invest in your team’s growth will pay off down the road as they proactively avoid making the same mistakes. If it’s been a while since you’ve held a post-mortem, plan to have one after your next project wraps.
4. Getting Lax About Documentation
You’re working with an all-star team, you’re ahead of schedule, and everything is going well. There’s no need to keep up with documentation because everyone is already in sync, right? Wrong. This is a mistake even seasoned project managers make. While updating documentation — change logs, technical requirements, JIRA tickets — can seem tedious and menial, these small details are the glue that holds a project together. No matter whether you’ve been a project manager for three months or three decades, stay committed to updating documentation. It will empower your team to continue working seamlessly rather than hunting you down for answers.
5. Not Recognizing Burnout
Burnout can be the downfall of a project. When your most important resources on a project — people — are stuck in a motivation rut, work quality will always suffer. That’s why project managers have to keep an eye out for burnout. Most master project managers are good at spotting burnout in their team members, but many fail to recognize it in themselves. Do an emotional and mental check-in with yourself every few weeks to ensure you’re operating from a place of strength and stamina, not exhaustion and indifference.