VOICES In the Trenches
Five common mistakes of new project managers.
By David Tilk, PMP
David Tilk, PMP, is a partner for I T governance
and project assurance at PwC in Cleveland,
YOU’VE JUST BEEN ASSIGNED the project manager role on
an important technology project—congratulations! The only
problem is that you’re not a project manager. How can you
learn about managing a project—fast? A good place to start is
with others who’ve been in your shoes. Here are five common
mistakes made by newly assigned project managers:
1. Thinking project management is just
Far too many people believe project management is making
2. Underestimating the importance of organizational
sure the project team performs a series of tasks in the right
order at the right time. In reality, many other elements need
to be considered, even on the smallest of projects, including:
n Stakeholders: Are the key people engaged and supportive?
n Value and benefits: Is the project likely to deliver the
value or benefits it is designed to?
n Risk management: What surprises are waiting to jump
out at you?
n Scope: What’s the impact of last-minute “must haves”?
People don’t like to change—especially if they don’t see
something in it for them. Inexperienced project managers
think a few emails and some training is more than enough to
get the team ready to accept a new system or process. You
can build the best system in the world, but if the teams aren’t
ready to use it, your project might not deliver its planned
value. Project managers should consider factors such as the
company’s readiness to change, the consequences of the
change on the organizational structure, the extent of the
change, who’s impacted by it and what training is needed.
3. Believing the rosy estimates provided by your teams
People, especially those who aren’t used to technology
implementations, tend to be overly optimistic when estimating how long tasks will take. They do so for all the right
reasons, but they just don’t have the experience to foresee
the complexities that are bound to come up.
Taking these estimates at face value can lead to delays
that make the project team, and you, look bad. Validate
estimates before putting them into your timeline.
4. Failing to understand complex dependencies
Projects are not linear. You will discover that you need to
manage many dependencies, both from within the project
as well as from other projects, changes or business-as-usual activities.
Failure to understand and manage these dependencies
will lead to delays. This is especially true in an environment
with many legacy systems, as these are almost always more
complex than you expect, and during the project’s construction or execution phases, when project managers tend to lose
sight of other phases and tasks that should be progressing.
5. Not recognizing the importance of quality assurance
It may feel like you’re adding unnecessary time to the
schedule by including quality assurance activities, but build-
ing in sufficient time for quality assurance (QA) will save
you time and money in the long run. Depending on the size
and scale of your project, QA activities should include:
n Functional testing: unit, system, integration and user
n Regression testing to make sure you haven’t broken any-
n Nonfunctional testing such as security vulnerability and
the system’s ability to handle large volumes
n An internal audit or other third-party reviews into high-
risk areas as well as periodic checkpoints
n Vendor quality checkpoints (be careful with these, as they
are more focused on the vendor than you)
n Stage gate reviews at the end of each significant part of
the project PM