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Seven Deadly Project Manager Sins

In spite of an increased focus on competency in PM conferences, journals and online knowledge sources, organizations continue to experience project failures at the hands of incapable PMs.  

Identifying common negative behaviors that can contribute to these failures might be the first step towards recovery:

1. Communication imbalance – communication consumes a significant percentage of a PM’s time so one would assume that this is a competency that even poor PMs would excel at.  Unfortunately, some PMs treat knowledge & information like power – sharing it with those they wish to curry favor with, and leaving everyone else in the dark.  Other PMs have a case of verbal “Montezuma’s revenge” – this is equally bad as stakeholders are unsure what information is critical and what is minutiae.  I covered this issue more extensively in the article “A dripping faucet or a fire hose – which most resembles YOUR project communication strategy?”

2. Neglecting stakeholders – As I wrote in “Don’t get blindsided by stakeholder influence” , PMs can get tunnel-vision by focusing purely on their direct customer or sponsor.  While this individual might be the one signing deliverable acceptance forms and evaluating your performance, a good PM needs to practice 360 degree management – sponsor, stakeholders & team. 

 3. Inaccurate or incomplete project control books – It doesn’t matter how heavy or light your PM methodology is (or even if you organization doesn’t have one).  There’s a basic set of project data that should be kept current so to facilitate project tracking, control, monitoring and (if you win the lottery) transition.  Having an out-of-date schedule is worse than having no schedule at all – at least a stakeholder doesn’t draw any wrong conclusions from a non-existent schedule.

 4. Ignoring conflict – Conflict is a natural occurrence on most projects but accidental PMs are often unused to managing interpersonal conflicts and might be tempted to ignore them in the hopes that the situation will resolve itself.

 5. Jettisoning risk management – If a PM happens to be aware of good project management risk practices, they might not have the intestinal fortitude to “sell” the necessity for these practices to their sponsor, stakeholders or team.  Under pressure to deliver, if they skip risk management, they’ll at least have the opportunity to improve their fire-fighting skills!

 6. A blind focus on the triple constraint – While scope, schedule & cost constraints are important, a PM might ignore the fact that a project has to deliver business value to avoid “the operation was a success, but the patient died” syndrome.  Poor PMs are less likely to ask questions such as “Is this deliverable necessary to the end result”, “Are we gold-plating” or “Is this project still of value to the organization”?

 7. Poor assumptions management – Projects possess uncertainty and to try to reduce this uncertainty, we make assumptions.  A good PM will log critical assumptions, share them with the overall project team, attempt to validate them proactively, and use them as one of the inputs into risk identification.  A bad PM will forget the assumptions shortly after they were made…

By no means is this list exhaustive, so I’d encourage you to contribute some of your own in comments.  Hopefully, we can distill a comprehensive set of cardinal sins to eliminate that justification for bad PMs: “I didn’t know!”

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

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