“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Mistakes are an inevitable part of life, but some slip-ups are a bit more dramatic. For example, it’s not every day that NASA loses a $125M Mars orbiter like it did in 1999, when Lockheed Martin engineers used inches instead of centimeters to calculate its orbit. The result? Navigation information for the orbiter (and hence the orbiter itself) was lost. That’s a pretty big mistake.
And while most project managers aren’t tasked with tracking objects in outer space, they’re no strangers to making mistakes. Let’s take a look at three of the worst.
#1: Unclear objectives
This one might seem obvious, but you might be surprised at how often this occurs. Here’s a real-life example of how missed objectives can completely derail a project that has fantastic intentions:
Tim lives in Eugene, Oregon, a beautiful city where many of its 168,000+ residents enjoy the outdoors nestled between two mountain ranges. To help bring the community together, Tim and some other Eugene residents came up with ideas for community projects and youth services.
Excited about the possibilities, they hired and paid a consultant $10,000 to help them manage the project by addressing some of its’ aspects, including their mission and their vision. And after the consultant left they had a beautiful mission statement, but they were missing something crucial: a way to measure and demonstrate the impact their project would have on the community. So getting grants? Not likely.
The Eugene residents’ failed project gets to the heart of one of the three of the worst mistakes project managers make: setting unclear goals and objectives. So what could they have done to help correct that and what can you do to avoid that project problem?
- Set SMART Objectives: make them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Time-bound
- Ask yourself: What will change if the project succeeds? How will I show others the impact it makes?
While setting a clear goal seems like step number one, it doesn’t always happen. In fact, 37% of projects businesses undertake fail due to unclear project objectives. And that can be costly when roughly 10% of every dollar a business spends is wasted on project management objectives alone—whether or not a project fails or succeeds. That’s a pretty heavy hit for businesses looking to be truly effective with their money and efforts. It’s also a major morale blow to teams—nobody wants to be on a project that fails.
And it might surprise you to know that only 23% of organizations take the time to put standardized project management practices in place—even if they have reliable (and well earned) success and failure metrics that they could use to guide them.
Here are a few more practices you can implement to make sure your objectives are clear to everyone involved and get your team aligned:
1. Get team buy-in
- Standardize and share processes: explain why the processes have value and create processes for data sharing, communication, and reporting.
- Identify if they need to be improved: get your team aligned on the major goals and milestones but leave room for feedback.
2. Use the right tracking software
- Automate as many processes as possible including reports, task handoffs, and progress visualization—and keep in mind that you should be able to see the big picture as well as the nitty gritty details in one organized place for maximum efficiency.
- Choose software that promotes visibility so you make sure your team can see the broader vision and how their work applies to the larger goal.
#2: Disorganized communication
Without effective communication the chances of a successful project aren’t great. In fact, 30% of projects fail due in part to inefficient communication of communication between teams and leadership.
So how do you avoid this common mistake?
- Communicate exactly what you need: define the parameters of the work expected of your team and how you want it completed.
- Leave a reference trail for you and your team: when you assign tasks, have meetings, or change plans, document it, make it accessible to all and have a centralized place to track project discussions and meeting minutes.
- Standardize how your chat tools are used: take stock of the tools your team uses and establish rules around how each is used.
- Pick chat tools that promote visibility: communication tools that rely on people remembering to share information (like email and chat messaging will create communication gaps.
#3: Sneaky scope creep
When a project starts to add additional components and tasks until your original deadlines are now unrealistic, you know you’ve made this common and costly mistake. And the larger they get, the more challenging the project management. In fact, nearly 50% of business projects experience scope creep, and 29% of projects fail due to inadequate cost estimation.
So how can you avoid scope creep? Take the time to plan out the deliverables carefully and be vigilant of potential new requests as they come in. Management, clients, or even vendors are known to add requirements to a project after it is already underway. But with proper tracking and perhaps a little research, you can tell which add-ons are realistic and which ones require additional time or budget. Don't be afraid to say no, especially if that ever-growing list of new tasks will throw off your entire project schedule.
And as for keeping your time and budget estimates as realistic as possible, here are a few different types of cost estimation to help you out.
1. Analogous estimation
Utilize past and similar projects to design a rough estimation of what your project may cost and how long it will take. This is typically the quickest type of estimation, but it can have some inaccuracies.
2. Parametric estimation
This works by identifying the relationship between variables and cost or duration. In this type of estimation, you use past data to calculate the time and cost for different components of your project—basically, analogous estimation with a bit more math.
3. Bottom-up estimation
Include as much low-level detail as you can when creating an estimate. It requires breaking down each project task into smaller components, such as individual deliverables. This type of estimate can be time-consuming, but it's the most accurate and can curtail potential risks.
You should also:
- Set up checkpoints for review: Schedule points of review for project scope, budget and time. Be sure to include the client if needed.
- Identify your single point of contact: ID individuals in charge of each deliverable for ultra-clear accountability.
You Don’t Have to Shrug and Say “Mistakes Happen”
Even if your project doesn’t involve a potential $125 million dollar mistake, the small ones can add up quickly. One way to help reduce them is to automate the error prone parts of the project—like sending alerts when one step of it is complete.
And Kintone has the workflow management tools to support efficient project management while improving team collaboration, so you can avoid the three worst mistakes project managers make a little more easily.
About the Author
Kristy is a writer living in Atlanta, Georgia where she works, plays and explores life. When it comes to writing, she’s pretty much dabbled in nearly every form—she penned her first published piece, a poem titled “What’s in a Name,” when she was in grade school—she finds it ironic that she has forgotten peoples’ names all her life. When she isn’t moving her fingers on a keyboard, she’s likely enjoying time with friends, playing tennis or spoiling her 10-year-old Scottish Fold cat, Cash.