14 Common Project Management Mistakes

It's no wonder only 29 percent of IT projects are completed successfully, according to The Standish Group. Project management consultants and software providers say they see IT departments making the same project management mistakes over and over: IT groups don't follow standard project management processes. They don't have the right staff working on projects. They don't assess the risks that could imperil their projects or determine ways to mitigate those risks. The list of mistakes unrolls like a ball of yarn.

Most of the project management mistakes IT departments make boil down to either a lack of adequate planning or breakdowns in communication (either among the project team or between the project team and the project sponsors). These mistakes can be fatal. They can also be avoided. And who better to point out the most common project management mistakes than project management vendors and consultants. (They also suggest ways to avoid them.)

The following list of the 14 most common project management mistakes ought to help you pinpoint where your projects are going wrong and measures you can take to improve them. The upside of avoiding these most common project management pitfalls is tremendous. Not only will your project success rate increase, you'll also improve satisfaction among internal customers, IT's stock inside the organization will increase in value, and the business will benefit from systems that make them more competitive that get delivered on time and on budget.

Staffing Mistakes

Mistake No. 1: Projects Lack the Right Resources with the Right Skills.

Impact: Proper project staffing is critical, yet improperly allocating resources tops the list of most common project management mistakes. Not having the right people on a project can kill it. "The key to getting a project successfully accomplished is getting the right people with the right skills," says Joel Koppelman, CEO of project management software vendor Primavera. "All the planning in the world won't overcome an insufficiency of talent."

Solution: IT and project managers need full visibility into the skills and workloads of all of their resources, including consultants, contractors and outsourcers, who often get left out of skills assessments even though they're doing a "huge" proportion of work, says Koppelman. Project management software can provide such visibility into everyone's skills and workloads.

Once IT and project managers know who's doing what, they have to figure out how to allocate resources across myriad projects and day-to-day work.

"There are all kinds of organizational models," says Richard Scannell, co-founder of IT infrastructure consultancy GlassHouse Technologies. "I've never seen anything that works well. There's no easy answer [to the resource allocation question]."

You just have to try synchronizing people and projects as best you can, says Koppelman, adding that one potential solution is to appoint a resource manager who's responsible for figuring out who will be assigned to each project and for ensuring there's a fair allocation of talent across projects.

Scannell suggests setting up "tiger teams" where people get taken out of their traditional job responsibility for a year or more to work on a specific project. Ken Cheney, director of HP Software's PPM Center, recommends assigning resources at a project level as opposed to a specific task level, which he says is much more arduous.

If you're still hard-pressed to adequately staff projects, you may be able to free up resources by cancelling a "discretionary" project (e.g. one that isn't tightly tied to the business strategy), says Cheney. He suggests looking at your entire portfolio of projects your IT staff is working on to identify ones that aren't mission-critical. "By stopping those projects and reallocating resources to projects that will have the biggest impact, the organization as a whole can be much more successful," he says.

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