Project management is a process of applying skills, activities, and resources to achieve a specific set of goals. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that most companies’ project management efforts are unsuccessful.
Only 43% of project managers report that their companies “mostly” or “always” complete projects on budget, while even fewer – 29% – report that their companies “mostly” or “always” complete projects on time. What’s more, an average of 11.4% of business investment is wasted due to poor project performance.
Why are so few projects completed on time or on a budget? We decided to research this question and come up with the most common project management mistakes that lead to project overruns.
Mistake 1: Not having a business case for the project
This survey ranked “Doing the wrong projects (lack of strategic alignment)” and “Poor project selection process” as the 13th and 14th biggest project management challenges, respectively.
Before starting any project, you need to ask certain key questions to establish the business case, such as:
- Why does this project exist? (Why is it important?)
- Why now? (Why is there an urgent need for change?)
- What benefits will we get from this project in terms of cost savings or increased revenues?
- How much is it likely to cost?
Without a clear business case from – or approved by – senior management, the entire reasoning behind the project may be flawed. This results in a project that is impossible to deliver on time or on budget.
Mistake 2: Not being clear on goals and deliverables
An estimated 37% of projects fail due to unclear goals and deliverables, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI). Lack of clarity seems to be caused by the lack of a clear business case to start with but, even with a clear business case, it’s vital to agree on clear goals and deliverables. Without this, it’s impossible to estimate the required timeline or resources accurately.
Mistake 3: Underestimating the time and resources needed
A successful project needs clarity on the scope, the budget, the allocation of resources and completion of the work, and the identification and mitigation of risks and issues. However, this survey ranks “Poor resource management”, “Lack of planning skills”, “Poor risk management”, and “Frequent changes to scope” as the 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 12thbiggest project management challenges, respectively, meaning that this remains a very common project management mistake.
Project Management Mistake 4: Lack of stakeholder buy in
Only 46% of organizations place a high priority on a culture that values project management, while “lack of senior management support” ranks 11th on this list of biggest project management challenges. Many project managers complain of senior managers who stay at arm’s length, offer little to no direction, or agree to “impossible timelines”. It’s vital to get senior stakeholders to support the project from the beginning all the way through to completion to increase the odds of success.
Mistake 5: Lack of process or clear responsibilities
According to the PMI, “only 23% of organizations use standardized project management practices”. However, companies that build strong project practices enjoy a whole host of benefits. Compared with companies without mature value-delivery processes, they’re more likely to meet their project goals (77% vs. 56%), stay within budget (67% vs. 46%), and deliver on time (63% vs. 39%). They’re also less likely to suffer scope creep (30% vs. 47%) or outright project failure (11% vs. 21%).
Project managers need to be clear on their responsibilities. They won’t be delivering the project themselves – their team will do that. Instead, PMs must make sure that the team has what they need, know what they’re trying the achieve, and give enough warning of what they need to do to be able to deliver.
Mistake 6: Using inexperienced or poorly trained project managers
The PMI says that 61% of organizations provide project management training while 47% have a clear career path for project professionals – and also that Project management Professional (PMP) certificate holders earn salaries that are 22% more than those without PMP certification.
This suggests that companies value experienced and qualified project managers. Despite that, this survey ranks “poorly trained project managers” as the 2nd biggest project management challenge, proving that using inexperienced or poorly trained PMs remains a widespread problem. This makes sense when reviewing the available statistics. After all, if 61% of organizations provide PM training, that means 39% do not – that is one in three.
Matching the experience of a PM to the complexity of the project is important for success. Multi-functional, longer-term projects need people with a proven successful track record, while something simpler can be a great way to develop a less experienced PM.
Looking for more? Check out this comparison of project manager, product manager, and product owner roles.
Mistake 7: Attempting to run too many projects
This survey ranks this project management mistake as the number one biggest project management challenge. Project managers describe this same phenomenon as: “Too much work, not enough hours in the day”, or “too many projects at the same time”.
It seems that most project managers run between two and five projects (59%), with only 26% running six or more projects at the same time, suggesting that there is a clear limit to the number of projects PM can be expected to run productively.
Mistake 8: Not developing or training project teams
According to the Project Management Institute, 31% of executive leaders believe that learning relevant skills is the biggest factor in future success. Yet training or developing project management teams is not always a priority for organizations, which can lead to teams repeating the same project management mistakes over and over.
One way around this is for organizations to focus on the team development cycle. This cycle is composed of five stages – Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. While this is a natural cycle, effective project managers use their knowledge of the cycle to help their teams reach the performing stage more quickly. This helps to increase the chances of success.
Mistake 9: Wasting time
One of the biggest knock-on effects of improper planning, and project management is an inefficient use of time. This can take many forms, from constant intervention from senior management to too many meetings, or even dealing with unnecessary admin.
According to Girls Guide to Project Management, documentation (20%) is the biggest time-waster that distracts them from managing projects efficiently. This is followed by too many meetings (11%) and having to manually chase team members for updates and information:
All of these tasks could be much more easily managed using the right software tools.
Mistake 10: Not using project management software
Only 23% of project managers use any kind of project management software at all, while 35% of project managers use MS Excel to build resource plans. As a result, 54% of organizations lack the ability to track KPIs in real-time. At the same time, according to the PMI, only 32% of executive leaders believe that investing in the right technologies is the biggest factor in future success.
While other factors are important, there are clear benefits of using project management software. According to this study, they include “improved timeline estimation”, “more effective use of project resources”, and “enhanced team communication”.
Mistake 11: Using the wrong project management software or not implementing it properly
One possible reason why more organizations do not use project management software right now is that it is often badly deployed, or else companies deploy the wrong software for their needs. For example, this survey ranks ineffectively implemented PPM solutions as the 4th biggest project management challenge. At the same time, functionality remains the top factor firms consider when choosing PM software, followed by price, and then ease of use:
The range of digital project management tools is extensive, and most organizations will benefit from some combination of the following:
- Project planning tools, such as Gannt charts
- Task management tools – check out our review of the 18 best task management tools
- Time tracking tools
- Resource management tools
- An agile project management too, such as Kanban – check out our Ultimate Kanban Guide
How to reap the benefits of effective project management
With so many common project management mistakes, it’s no wonder that so many projects end up running over time or over budget – or that so few completed projects deliver the benefits they were supposed to.
Yet there are many benefits to effective and successful project management. These include improving the odds of successful project delivery, more effective use of resources, improved project scope and quantity of work, happy project stakeholders, and employee growth and development.
For more information on the basics of project management and how to get started, download our free Ultimate Project Management Guide.
2019 - Present Co-founder and CEO @ Teamhood.
2015-2019 Head of software engineering department at Danske Bank.
2017-2018 Partner Associate Professor at Vilnius University. Lecturer of Software Architecture course
2011 - 2015 Managed numerous smaller IT teams at Prewise.
Co-founder of RaveIT, Eylean, No Brakes Games
Certified Agile product owner and practitioner. Managed large scale enterprise projects as well as launch of small startup products.
MSc of Software Engineering at Vilnius University.
Hobbies: Racing, MTB cycling, Windsurfing