Top Project Management Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

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Project notes hung on a wall to manage project

Look, we’ve all had projects where things didn’t go quite so well and the project suffered as a result. If you’ve experienced one or more of the following, chances are your project suffered from poor project management:

  • Project took way too long to complete
  • The project got delayed because you were waiting on the client
  • You found yourself managing every detail of the project
  • You found yourself consumed by one project
  • Too many changes were performed to get to the final result
  • The client was confused or frustrated during the project
  • The budget wasn’t “healthy” you found yourself finding “creative solutions” (aka cutting corners)
  • You did more work than what was agreed to in the project scope
  • Your project didn’t feel like it was moving through a clear and defined process

Don’t let the great results you’ve delivered for clients fool you. Poor project management could mean that you experience virtually all of the above symptoms – yet, it’s still very possible to deliver great results for clients.

The danger in poor project management isn’t always unhappy clients. A lack of a proper project management system usually results in lower profitability, less scalability, and a business that is frustrating and difficult to operate.

If you want to rock your projects, here is what you need to know!

Project Phases

Processes by their very nature have “steps” that need to be performed in a particular sequence. The first step to great project management is to identify the “steps” or stages that your projects should move through. Here is a general project process:

1. Project Initiation & Discovery

This is the stage at which you determine the goals and requirements of the project. Here’s when you work with the client to discover what they are looking to achieve, what they want out of the project, and how you’ll go about delivering those results.

2. Project Proposal

Once you’ve nailed down what the project requirements are, you’ll need to create a proposal for how you’ll execute a plan and deliver on the goals and expectations of the project. Internally, you’ll need to figure out things like resources and time required. This stage of the project is where your project scope, timeline, and budget are defined.

3. Execution of the Project

This stage is where the vast majority of your project will spend the most amount of time in. Not all projects are executed the same way, but what every project will require is monitoring and controls to ensure the project plan stays on track. Here’s where you’ll need to make sure milestones, deliverables, and timelines are met.

4. Project Wrap Up

When the project wraps up final deliverables are handed off and payments are collected. This is also a time where you can review the project to identify ways to better prepare and execute future projects – after all, every project is different and an opportunity to learn and improve.

Common Project Management Mishaps

Okay, so let’s get to the roots of the various problems you could face! Here is a list of common mistakes you can make at the different stages of a project.

1. Unclear Goals and Expectations

Nothing can harm your relationship with your client more than not having clear expectations for a project and a way to measure success.

The project’s goals and expectations should be set as early on as possible, but after you have clear understanding of what you are trying to accomplish. A great time to define these baselines is during the project initiation and discovery phase.

Successful projects start with S.M.A.R.T. goals and clear and conservative expectations.

Remember that if your client is helping you to establish goals, you might need to read between the lines. They might say things like “increase sales”, but what they really mean is they want to increase profit – after all, you could spend a fortune on advertising and get more sales, but at a loss.

Don’t forget to document your client’s situation before and after the project. Without a clear before and after picture, it’ll be hard to demonstrate that you’ve delivered on certain goals. Well documented projects also makes for easy case studies, since most of the case study writes itself.

 

2. Scope & Budget

We’ve all heard the term “scope creep” and chances are you’ve experienced this at least once. Every business owner, especially when first starting out, will “over-deliver” for clients to build brand advocates. It’s perfectly fine to do at the start, but once your business grows you need to nip this in the bud – quickly.

Controlling the project’s scope requires two things: 1. Getting good at discovering project requirements, and 2. Putting your foot down saying “no”.

The best way to control the project scope is to have the scope clearly identified in the first place. Ambiguities or omissions in your project scope leave the door open to interpretation and assumptions of what the project includes. Make sure your project proposal clearly indicates what you will and will not be included in the project.

Clearly defining your scope is also the best way to ensure that you’re budget is aligned with the project requirements.

If the scope is clearly defined, and a request is made that falls outside of that scope, you should have a clear process in place for processing those requests. Let’s say a client sends you an out-of-scope request in the middle of an email chain, what should you do?

First, let them know nicely that the the request falls outside of the scope. Then simply ask them to send you a separate email with the details so that you can provide them with a separate cost to add that to the project. That request should move through the process of Identification -> Proposal -> Execution or Integration (into the existing project).

 

3. Project Takes Too Long To Complete

A lot of things can hold up projects, including the client themselves. Projects that take too long to complete can reduce the profitability of the project and can throw your budget and schedule out the window.

To avoid clients holding up a project, you should make sure that the client has everything they need to complete the project before the project starts. A sure way to doubling your project timeline is starting a new website, for example, when the client is “still working” on the copy, or when they’re still getting their branding together.

Another major cause of project delays is inadequate resources. If a project requires a team of 4 and you plan on getting it done between 2 people, you’re asking for trouble. If you have enough people, but they don’t have the skills or experience to execute the project, you’re bound to run into problems. This is where project management is synonymous with “people management”. Get a clear understanding of what your team can take on while factoring in other projects and responsibilities.

Communication also plays a large role in finishing projects on time. If you’re not checking in with clients regularly throughout a project, you’re likely going to run into last-minute pitfalls. Using tools like Asana or Trello to centralize communications and resources is one way to help a project stay on track as well.

Remember that communication within your team is also vitally important. Make sure each team member clearly understands their role and your expectations of them. Set up regular meetings with your team to discuss all on-going projects.

 

4. Multiple Projects Create Havoc

Anyone can “manage” a single project. But if you find that handling more than one project is a nightmare, you’re probably not putting your projects through a clearly defined process.

Again, software tools like Asana, Trello, or Team Work can help to keep projects moving through a process – but you need to define what that process is first!

There are several project methodologies that you can adopt such as Agile, Scrum, or Kanban project management. No one methodology is “right”. Even within the same industry, one team might work better with one approach than another. Find the right project management approach that works for you and your team.

Create a defined process that moves projects along the 4 major phases (Initiation, Proposal, Execution, Wrap Up), and set up your project management system so that you track that process effectively.

Continual Process Improvement

Projects are like a wedding day – something is always bound to go wrong. Great project management is about reducing costly mistakes and learning from your experiences. One of the best ways to improve your project management is to review projects after you’ve completed them. When a project wraps up, try to identify at least 2 ways the project could have been completed better, faster, more easily or more profitably. For a clearer picture of how the project went, consider jotting down notes about any roadblocks or pitfalls when they happen. At the end of the project, review your notes and assess the outcomes and improvements you can make. When you identify ways projects could be improved in the future, make sure to incorporate changes to your project management process that will implement those changes at the earliest possible stage.

Conclusion

Project management is a skill, and an important one at that! Like any skill, the more you practice the better you’ll get at it.

Great project management results in better time management, smoother projects flows, more profitable and scalable services, and better more repeatable results for clients.

Share Your Experience

What other project management nightmares have you run into? What are some hard lessons you’ve learned that you think could help others?

Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments below…

Chris Castillo

Chris Castillo

I'm a digital marketer who loves to contribute back to communities that have helped me turn my side-hustle into a full-time business. When I'm not socializing in Facebook Groups, I'm working on growing my web design and digital marketing agency.

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