A short note to clients: Knowing the reasons and solutions for common project management mistakes is important. This knowledge gives you the confidence to address your concerns and solve emerging problems fast.
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Learning from mistakes is a natural part of human progress. Mistakes happen to anyone. Project managers (PMs) are no exception.
Sometimes, factors directly impacting a project remain outside a project manager’s scope. Project managers can prepare for, but not always avoid, negative outcomes.
Still, a PM holds responsibility to prevent those mistakes and issues they know or have encountered previously.
Below are three issues managers must immediately address or, even better, avoid at all costs.
Let’s consider them in more detail:
Giving a client false hope
Giving customers false hope is one of the most common mistakes in project management. It can seriously damage trust amongst the three major players: team, client, and project manager.
This mistake can lead to disappointment and a client’s potential loss.
The root of the problem is overpromising or miscommunication. The result is unmet expectations.
Here is how a problem is born:
- The client submits a request.
- After discussing the request with your team and evaluating it, you respond: "It’s impossible."
- The client insists, saying the request is absolutely necessary. They put pressure on you by emphasizing tight deadlines or claiming (perhaps falsely) the task is simple.
- Upon further discussion with your team, everyone agrees that completing the request, in theory, might be possible. You decide to accept the challenge.
- The client is now satisfied with your commitment to the task.
The following reasons why you might agree to undertake a task you are uncertain about being able to deliver on time, within budget:
- Apprehension about potential repercussions. If you decline the request, it could lead to strained relationships or client dissatisfaction.
- The desire to satisfy the client. You prioritize the client’s happiness over everything else, even if it means overextending your team or resources.
- An optimistic outlook. You believe that your team will overcome the challenges despite any uncertainties and successfully deliver the project.
Three outcomes are possible in this situation. Please note: The odds of succeeding are definitely against you. You have a 20% chance of success rate with outcomes A and B.
- Team delivers, as promised.
The client is satisfied with the project delivery. However, their trust in you took a hit. Why? Because the next time you, as PM, claim something is impossible, the client remembers the previous churn when you said it was impossible but still managed to complete the task. You caused the client additional, and as perceived by the client, unnecessary stress. You also increase the chances the client might again put added pressure on you and the team to do an “impossible” project. But unlike the first time, the team will under-deliver.
- Challenges arise, but the team delivers.
The team works overtime and/or on weekends. Or additional resources are allocated. The client is pleased. Still, client trust decreases. In this scenario, both client and development team trust you less. The team members are unhappy about working overtime, questioning the lack of value placed on them.
- Obstacles occur, causing the team to miss the deadline.
Both client and team are dissatisfied; their trust in you goes out the door. You have an 80% chance this is the outcome. Why jeopardize the goodwill of both client and team?
To avoid giving false hope to clients, consider implementing these strategies:
- Develop needed confidence to decline requests when necessary. Recognize that saying “No.” can sometimes be the most responsible and professional decision, preventing over-commitment or under-delivery.
- Improve your communication skills to clearly articulate the reasons for declining a request. Help clients understand the rationale behind your decision, fostering trust and transparency in your relationship.
- Propose an alternative solution. Those solutions might well satisfy the client’s needs while remaining within your team’s capabilities. By offering realistic options, you demonstrate your commitment to addressing client concerns. You maintain a mutually beneficial partnership. Remember, when offering options, give the client more than one option.
Ignoring client needs
Ignoring client needs results in growing dissatisfaction, a damaged relationship, and loss of client. Remember, it costs 6 – 7 times more to get a new client than to keep one you already have.
To maintain trust and ensure long-term partnerships, the PM must actively listen, understand, and address client concerns. If not, clients walk away. They actively seek alternative service providers who prioritize their needs. Even worse, they tell others how unhappy they were. Avoid that scenario.
The project management mistake here: according to the Eisenhower Priority Matrix, project managers often ignore non-urgent but important needs. However, these needs could significantly impact the overall project success and client satisfaction. The most common types of non-urgent but important client needs that are ignored include:
- Final quality: Clients expect high-quality deliverables that meet their requirements and exceed their expectations.
- Scope of work/term: Clients are clearly dissatisfied with the amount of delivered work or timeline.
- Inconsistency between the hourly rate charged and client’s expectations of expertise level: Skills, experience, and working styles vary across the team, raising questions about the received value.
- Process transparency: Clients want to understand how the project team works and how progress is made.
- Dissatisfaction with someone from the team: Clients might have concerns about a specific team member's performance or behavior.
Client needs are missed in several steps:
1. The client has a need.
2. The client expresses this need, perhaps indirectly. Listen carefully to your client. It is essential to capture and comprehend the client’s expressed need or concern.
A project management mistake occurs at this step through lack of attention to indirect clues or not asking more clarifying questions to identify the need fully.
3. After the discussion is over, the client might feel the manager has understood and accepted the need. The client is led to believe their needs will be met.
4. But there is no follow through by the PM. The client becomes confused and uncertain. The client then might feel left alone in the dark and begin losing trust in the team.
There are several reasons why PMs miss their focus on satisfying clients, needs:
- Prioritizing urgent matters over important ones.
- Forgetting about the need.
- Not listening carefully and realizing the importance of a need.
- Having difficulty in identifying and understanding an indirectly expressed need.
- Avoiding inconvenient or challenging problems and postponing their resolution.
An unsatisfied need can ultimately result in client disappointment and might spur the client to terminate the project or seek services elsewhere.
Meeting client needs is crucial to the success of any project.
The following steps ensure that client needs are always met:
- Practice active listening to pay attention to exactly what the client says.
- Confirm with the client what you think the client said to avoid misunderstandings. Follow up with a written summary to the client to ensure you are both on the same page.
- Clarify any unclear needs by asking questions like, "Is something bothering you?".
- Maintain a register of client needs and problems to keep track of everything.
- Treat satisfaction of each new client need as a separate sub-project to ensure the attention it deserves.
Project managers must provide regular updates and feedback to clients to keep them informed and ensure they continue meeting all client needs. By doing so, they avoid the risk of client disappointment and increase the probability of successful project delivery.
Not removing an underperforming team member from the project on time
Not removing a team member from a project on time can negatively affect both the team and the client. When team members are not performing up to par, it is essential to address the issue efficiently and effectively.
Some common signs that a team member must be replaced:
- A team member constantly repeats mistakes. They might also have an excuse for every failure and not take responsibility for their actions.
- Another red flag is when the team member accepts criticism but does nothing to improve performance.
- Underperforming team members adversely affect the team. Those low performers might impact the rest of the team.
- Sometimes, the client might even complain about the individual’s attitude.
There are several reasons why project managers might avoid removing team members from a project. The most common include:
- Project managers are worried about finding a suitable replacement.
- Confronting someone about their performance is psychologically challenging. Some managers choose to avoid conflict situations entirely.
Ignoring an underperforming team member can have several negative outcomes
- Team morale drops and team members might start leaving the project, creating additional stress and workload for the remaining members.
- The quality of the work might suffer, leading to client disappointment and the potential loss of the project.
- Finally, the team member in question might unexpectedly leave the project, forcing the team to frantically look for a replacement.
If a team member is not performing, it is crucial to address the issue head-on.
- While having a difficult conversation with the individual might be challenging, it is necessary for the team’s success. If you have any reason to believe that the person is not suited for the position, then you are probably right, and it is time to act.
- Another option is to prepare a replacement plan for the future, so you are not caught off guard if the team member does eventually leave.
Ultimately, the sooner you replace an underperforming person, the better for everyone involved.
Common mistakes in project management can—and do—seriously damage collaboration.
It is crucial that the PM must:
- Be realistic about the scope the team can complete within a given timeline
- Forgetting about the need.
- Not listening carefully and realizing the importance of a need.
Knowing where pitfalls lie helps keep the best balance between everyone’s interests on a project, ensuring a successful launch.