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Mistakes I made as a new project manager

Updated on February 9, 2013

The internet has many tips and advice for new project managers and before I started project management I took the time to read most of them. Despite the knowledge, diligence and strong work ethic I still managed to make some mistakes as I became a fully fledged ‘project manager’.

In my business consultancy work and life coaching I have been asked by new project managers, what difficulties I encountered when I started out. Most experienced project managers like to profess that they were born competent but the reality is that their current performance was forged out of a lot of previous mistakes.

So to help you in your quest to become a successful project manager here is a breakdown of my mistakes from the real world.

Incorrect information – My first project did not go well at all. I had a call one day from the CEO of my company saying that he wanted me to take over as project manager on an existing project. I wasn’t even a project manager at the time so I found it very daunting. Keen to impress I accepted and then went about gaining as much information as possible, however, due to me taking over the project from a colleague due to his poor performance (which was awkward) I didn’t consult with him as much as I should have. I felt like his reputation was tarnished and if I couldn’t do it 100% on my own I would look incompetent. This was a mistake as he did hold some information which I needed and as a result I provided an incomplete spec and the ramifications lasted months and caused the company some issues I would have rather avoided.

Lesson here is : What you don’t know WILL hurt you and IGNORANCE is not bliss. Get as much information as you can.

Infrequent communication – Managing stakeholders is a subject I had read about before I started project management but the importance of this element had escaped me. After all some stakeholders aren’t even involved in the work !. Surely its more important to get the job done than waste time keeping people in the loop that aren’t directly contributing ?. This is where I went wrong. The CEO of my company asked for regular updates yet I wanted to update him when there was something ‘significant’ to tell him. Although, he accepted my explanation and acknowledged my point of view he looked me in the eye with a smirk and said “So are we clear on what the term REGULAR means now”. Needless to say he received a WEEKLY update from me without fail for the rest of the project.

The uniqueness of people – I underestimated the influence character traits can have on a project. When I started out I had a plan in my head and all I needed was a few meetings to involve others and we would be ploughing ahead on all cylinders. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. My second project required input from an IT consultant. I had worked with IT people before so I thought this would be the same process : invite the guy in, discuss what needs to happen, everyone agrees and away we go. However, after a couple of meetings with the consultant my colleague and I still didn’t really know what was involved, in fact he gave us more options which only added to the confusion.

It dawned on me that for this to work I would have to take a different approach specifically tailored to dealing with this consultant. As a result I compiled a questionnaire asked him to fill it out, discussed the responses with my colleague and then repeated the process with follow up questions. After a couple of iterations we understood what needed to happen so when we did call him in again for the meeting it was just a case of stating what action needed to be taken.

So in summary face-to-face meetings are great as long as they work for the people involved. If people do not communicate well in face-to-face then don’t be afraid to tailor your approach.

Optimism and time management don’t mix - When I got my first project management opportunity I was pretty excited, I thought this is my time to really give 100% and show that I can get some results in half the time that is expected. What I didn’t realise in my naivety is that when the project manager gives a time frame, the company and everyone in it takes it as red. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm got the better of me and my mouth promised timeframes that I couldn’t live up to. I hadn’t heeded the warnings in the articles I had read and it was only when I had completed my first project, overcome many unforeseen problems, had project team members come and go that I realised, projects have external factors that need to be factored into the schedule.

My hope is that this article helps you to avoid some of the mistakes that I ended up making.

If you have any words of encouragement for other project managers or would like to share your own experiences, please add a comment.

Good luck


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