Rookie Mistakes

Six common errors new project managers often make—and how to fix them.

To be fair, leading a project from launch to close can be a daunting experience for any project manager, so it’s no surprise that newly minted project professionals struggle in their early attempts. That doesn’t mean fallout from any blunder is without grave consequences. Fortunately, there are clear solutions to these traps.

Here are six common mistakes project managers often make when they’re just getting started—and possible solutions to take before their projects, and careers, suffer.

Mistake #1: Ignoring the Slacker on the Team
Sometimes managing the team’s personalities can be more challenging than dealing with the tasks—especially if a member unwilling to pull his or her own weight is dragging everyone else down.

Solution: Establish expectations and accountability for your team at the start.

Mistake #2: Not Being Honest with the Sponsor
It may be painful to be honest with a sponsor about deadline slips or budget overruns. But it’s better than hoping these get solved on their own later on, which practically never happens.

Solution: Building and maintaining trust is a key component of the relationship between project managers, sponsors and stakeholders.

Mistake #3: Skipping the Charter or Initiation Process
Project managers may have projects dropped on their desks without an approved charter because a senior-level executive green-lit projects without proper vetting. This can get the project off on the wrong foot.

Solution: if you find yourself attached to a project that hasn’t gone through the initiating process—where the concept is thoroughly vetted—start by going back to the sponsor to ask key initiating questions like; Why are we doing this project?; What problem or issue are we trying to address?; Do the benefits outweigh the risks?; How will success be defined for this project?

Mistake #4: Skipping Risk Analysis
Rookie project managers may view risk analysis as another planning step they don’t have time for. As a result, they often make the fatal mistake of skipping it completely.

Solution: If your organization lacks a set of standards around risk, seek out others who have done similar projects within the organization or find a more seasoned professional willing to provide guidance. You will need to document the risks and look at what could possibly go wrong. Then share your findings with the project sponsor.

Mistake #5: Overlooking Continuing Education
Moving up the ranks to become a full-time project manager doesn’t mean getting an education is over.

Solution: Make the education investment and start with standards and credentials. Project managers should also hone their communication skills.

Mistake #6: Relying Solely on Technical Skills
For inexperienced professionals with strong technical skills and little project experience, there’s a tendency to place less emphasis on the project’s business objectives and communications.

Solution: By design, the project manager is in a difficult position solving, facilitating and compromising on numerous issues throughout one day. A mentor who has been through this before can be a major asset to sorting through those challenges.

By Ashley G. Richardson
March 2013