Tuesday, 15 February 2011 12:54

Seven Deadly Project Manager Sins

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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  Having an out-of-date schedule is worse than having no schedule at all – at least a stakeholder doesn’t draw any wrong conclusions from a non-existent schedule.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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Kiron Bondale

Kiron D. Bondale, PMP, PMI-RMP has worked for over thirteen years in the project management domain with a focus on technology and change management. He has setup and managed Project Management Offices (PMO) and has provided PPM consulting services to clients across multiple industries.

For more of Kiron’s views on project & change management, please visit his blog or contact him directly at kiron_bondale @ yahoo.ca.


0 # Dan Vickers 2011-02-16 04:07
Kiron, Great article. You nailed this topic. There are several other sins (poor team management, poor time management, poor meeting management, poor self development, etc.) that could be added to a comprehensive list. But your list above clearly identifies the big ones. Thanks for posting this article.
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0 # Brenda Ross 2011-02-16 04:38
This is a great list. My latest experience would place one other item on the list: Bowing to the pressure of Fire... Ready... Aim. Project managers are not sticking to the basic steps of project management in the right order. Sponsors or Leadership are in such a hurry to get going on a project, pressuring us to skip critical planning steps. A PM needs to find a way to push back and too many of us are so eager to please, we end up doing what we know is not right.
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0 # Kirk Jansson 2011-02-16 05:31
Keiron, thta is a great start and a good prompt for others to move forward. I think your 7 sins are the primary ones. The secondary ones become the detail. I can think of a few pre-project and during project ones that stand out, apart from poor team, time and communications management. Ones such as: •Underestimatin g total project time •Failing to properly document and manage project scope and variation •Underestimatin g or poor forecasting of all costs •Trying to be a master of all •Poor planning and scheduling •Ove rlooking additional costs But most importantly of all, "managing" the difference between a stakeholder/spo nsors requirements and his/her final expectations.
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0 # Khalid Noor 2011-02-16 11:41
You may add 'cronyism' to the list, or to sin number 2, if it is not already implied.
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0 # Yasir Masood 2011-02-16 21:51
Nice Article
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0 # Michael Davis 2011-02-17 00:42
Good article, but I agree with Brenda that failing to do thorough planning before starting work should be on the list - possibly as the number one deadly sin. Particularly important is understanding and agreeing with the stakeholders what the project objectives are and developing the plan to ensure they can be met.
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0 # James Farrell, Ireland 2011-02-18 05:14
Kiron, I'm writing to you from the Project Management Association in Ireland. We have read and enjoed your article which is well written and to the point. We have shared your thoughts with many of our members and have recieved numerous positive feedback. We would like you to link to our site and if you are agreeable we will send you anchor text. We look forward to future articles and insights. Kind regards and best of luck. James
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0 # Saket Bansal 2011-03-05 11:06
Great Blog, I would like to add "dependency management" in it , it is something which should be given special focus, project manager should ensure that project is not too much dependant on few key team members. Project manager should also ensure that input required form outside like requirement clarification , infrastructure for testing etc are tracked crically. Rega rds, Saket Bansal pmsaket. blogspot.com
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0 # Duane Orlovski 2011-03-07 04:33
This is a great article. The #3 point is one I have tried to emphasize over and over to people I work with. I have worked with too many individuals that do not update the changes in a project schedule and it always leads to frustration and miss-communicat ion.
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0 # Linda Bella O'Hara 2011-03-13 11:11
#1 hits me personally because communication bog down is common so I as a Freelancer I use Teambox, an online collaboration tool, that streamlines all of my email, tasks, and conversations pertaining to the projects. teambox.com
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0 # RAVI SRINIVASAN 2011-03-19 13:57
PM , Lacking TRUST on their team , is the NUMBER 1 SIN. We all know from the bad incident of September , as a result of TRUST Declined , the Billions of dollars of Security , time lost in Airports due to elaborate security procedures. Th at is the POWER OF TRUST . MORE TRUST LESS COST
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0 # josephine mendy 2011-03-23 21:47
In every thing should be treated with knowledge.
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0 # Vivek Sukhatankar 2011-03-30 16:03
Nice Article.
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0 # Angel Casado 2011-04-11 19:32
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0 # akoto anthony 2011-08-12 04:11
A masterpiece from the guru!.....deepl y persuasive and richly educative....am a proud beneficiary of your work....
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0 # Alan Murrells 2012-01-18 16:31
Interesting first read of the day (no 8 avoid displacement activities first thing in the morning). I'd refine no 3 to say up to date and easily readable on one sheet of paper. Easier to keep up to date that way. No. 9 Let the project team do the work as far as possible - don't do it for them (one of my weaknesses). Give team members lots of rope and authority - much more than you'd think - apart from on very rare occasions, I've found that always works. Let them take as much control as possible of their area. That will free up your time to focus on communication, stakeholders, conflict, issues and risk.
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0 # Faisal 2012-02-29 12:11
Poor assumption management is from my own perspective is actually a risk assessment. Am I right?
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0 # Varun 2013-06-06 04:58
Team Members also need some amount of freedom to work. Flexible PM can add more value, rather than earning ire of team members, especially in case of IT projects.
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