Project Management Institute

Corrective Measures

We Asked the Project Management Community: What Lesson Did You Learn from a Project Management Mistake?

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“On a large, multiyear, multisite program, I assumed that support from senior leadership—including sponsorship— would stay constant. It didn't. Within three months, there was a dramatic shift in perceived sponsor support, and the program shifted to massive flux. This taught me a lesson that I've remembered for over a decade: Executive sponsorship and stakeholder management are not static checkboxes at the initiation of a program, but rather vital signs you need to regularly monitor.”

—Daniel Levine, PMP, senior program manager, BlackBerry, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

KNOW THE PLAYERS

“One of my biggest mistakes, which subsequently turned into my largest project failure, happened because not all stakeholders were identified and met with prior to starting the project. In a company of over 15,000 people, we didn't identify a small four-person new product development group in our stakeholder analysis. They eventually had the power to shut us down. Lesson learned: Even if you think you have all your stakeholders identified, dig just a little deeper to be sure.”

—Jason Orloske, PMP, program manager, mergers & acquisitions, WEX, Fargo, North Dakota, USA

FIND THE RIGHT FIT

“One of the greatest mistakes I've made is choosing the wrong team members for a project. Everyone wants to find the right people for their teams, but unless you understand the goals and vision for the project, you risk adding the wrong members to your team. Know your own strengths and find others who have the experience and skills that can complement you. Some people just want to tag along to be part of the achievement. If that person can't realize the project vision, we have to let that person go.”

—Calvin Koh, assistant controller, CWT Logistics, Singapore

MANAGE RISKS HEAD-ON

“I was hired as temporary technical project manager on a project that was over budget and significantly late. We reviewed all documents and discovered a big mistake: An inexperienced project manager had performed inadequate risk management and assessment. There were so many tasks to properly re-plan the project. But the most important was to create a proper risk management plan.

We had to identify potential loss exposures based on alternatives. We also had to evaluate risks by assessing frequency and estimating severity—prioritizing them and examining applicable options to manage those risks. Ultimately, we learned to make sure that everyone was on the same page. Everyone had to reorganize to be in line with the new order of things.”

—Enas A. Sharaf, PMP, technical head of cloud services, ADNAN Engineering, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

PRACTICE DIPLOMACY

“My biggest mistake was not realizing the potential for dysfunction among the project sponsors. During a new product development project at a previous organization I worked at, I failed to recognize I had become a pawn in a much larger issue between the chief marketing officer (CMO), the chief technology officer (CTO) and the CEO. During one presentation to these executives, I inadvertently and naively exposed marketing failures (under the CMO's direction) and R&D failures (under the CTO's direction). Both the CTO and CMO were in denial and livid with me. It left me feeling very uneasy about the quality of my company's leadership at the time.

Flawed Outcomes

Mistakes during planning and execution can add up to big problems. The most common project problems are:

image Not completed on time
image Not completed within original budget
image Experienced scope creep
image Failed to meet original goals/business intent

Source: PMI's Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance, 2016

That experience taught me to take a great deal of time getting to know my sponsors' true desires and emotional ties to the project. I use this information to better gauge my approach to the project. At the very least, I'll know what the risks are and manage accordingly to avoid getting caught in an unwinnable situation. The experience also taught me to stay close with my sponsors and stakeholders by communicating findings with them on a regular basis, rather than waiting for some large and embarrassing public unveiling.”

—Aaron Spearin, PMP, training manager business transformations, Verizon, Colchester, Connecticut, USA

SMALL AGILE STEPS

“Making the agile transformation is difficult unless organizations and project leaders are truly prepared to make the change. I found this out the hard way when I managed a team's transition to agile. None of us were truly ready to make it successful, because of multiple mistakes. First, there were no real consequences if somebody broke the new ground rules. Second, we lacked resources who had experience with agile approaches, in part because I wasn't forceful enough when I requested agile-experienced team members.

LESSONS LEARNED

How did you learn from a project management mistake? Share your best advice on the PMI Project, Program and Portfolio Management LinkedIn Group.

I learned that transitioning to agile means starting in small steps but being willing to change whatever is necessary. I fixed the situation by handing leadership over to a project manager who had more agile experience. Over time, I dug deeper into agile approaches and traditional methodologies and learned when to deploy what.”

—Gunnar Scheffler, CEO, Virtrion, Düsseldorf, Germany

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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