Project Management Institute

Rocky starts

five common mistakes of new project managers

VOICES | In the Trenches


By David Tilk, PMP

YOU’VE JUST BEEN ASSIGNED the project manager role on an important technology project—congratulations! The only problem is that you’re not a project manager. How can you learn about managing a project—fast? A good place to start is with others who’ve been in your shoes. Here are five common mistakes made by newly assigned project managers:

1. Thinking project management is just task management

Far too many people believe project management is making sure the project team performs a series of tasks in the right order at the right time. In reality, many other elements need to be considered, even on the smallest of projects, including:

  • ▪ Stakeholders: Are the key people engaged and supportive?
  • ▪ Value and benefits: Is the project likely to deliver the value or benefits it is designed to?
  • ▪ Risk management: What surprises are waiting to jump out at you?
  • ▪ Scope: What’s the impact of last-minute “must haves”?

2. Underestimating the importance of organizational change management

People don’t like to change—especially if they don’t see something in it for them. Inexperienced project managers think a few emails and some training is more than enough to get the team ready to accept a new system or process. You can build the best system in the world, but if the teams aren’t ready to use it, your project might not deliver its planned value. Project managers should consider factors such as the company’s readiness to change, the consequences of the change on the organizational structure, the extent of the change, who’s impacted by it and what training is needed.

3. Believing the rosy estimates provided by your teams

People, especially those who aren’t used to technology implementations, tend to be overly optimistic when estimating how long tasks will take. They do so for all the right reasons, but they just don’t have the experience to foresee the complexities that are bound to come up.

Taking these estimates at face value can lead to delays that make the project team, and you, look bad. Validate estimates before putting them into your timeline.

4. Failing to understand complex dependencies

Projects are not linear. You will discover that you need to manage many dependencies, both from within the project as well as from other projects, changes or business-as-usual activities.

Failure to understand and manage these dependencies will lead to delays. This is especially true in an environment with many legacy systems, as these are almost always more complex than you expect, and during the project’s construction or execution phases, when project managers tend to lose sight of other phases and tasks that should be progressing.

5. Not recognizing the importance of quality assurance

It may feel like you’re adding unnecessary time to the schedule by including quality assurance activities, but building in sufficient time for quality assurance (QA) will save you time and money in the long run. Depending on the size and scale of your project, QA activities should include:

  • ▪ Functional testing: unit, system, integration and user acceptance
  • ▪ Regression testing to make sure you haven’t broken anything else
  • ▪ Nonfunctional testing such as security vulnerability and the system’s ability to handle large volumes
  • ▪ An internal audit or other third-party reviews into high-risk areas as well as periodic checkpoints
  • ▪ Vendor quality checkpoints (be careful with these, as they are more focused on the vendor than you)
  • ▪ Stage gate reviews at the end of each significant part of the project PM

David Tilk, PMP, is a partner for IT governance and project assurance at PwC in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

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