4 July 2019

Being able to distinguish facts from fiction in the world of project management can mean the difference between a runaway success and an embarrassing failure. Here we cut through the confusion and debunk ten of the most common project management myths to help you ensure that your next project prospers.

As the old adage goes, you have to ‘work the plan’ after first ‘planning the work’. Unfortunately, this maxim no longer stands you in good stead when it comes to project management. If a project is planned and executed based of misconceptions and misguided thinking, work can easily stall and progress can be derailed. Our following list of ten common project management myths will help you guide your next project to glory. 

The top expert on any team should be the project manager                             

This common myth has proved to be the undoing of many otherwise successful projects. Expecting a project manager to be the top expert is common among many vendors, stakeholders and even project managers themselves. In fact, a project manager’s roll is to facilitate work done by other experts, not to be the top expert themselves. According to the Wrike Team, project managers spend up to 90 percent of their time communicating. This includes time spent mentoring, guiding and supporting member of their team. Surprisingly, while many people expect project managers to hold certifications, The Wrike Team’s research indicates that 70 percent of accidental project managers have “no special training or certificate at hand.”

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Any project can be successfully completed by any project manager

No two project managers will have the exact same style of leadership and collaboration, no matter how similar their resumes may seem. Even at corporate giants such as IBM, less than 60 percent of project management specialists hold a certificate, according to the Wrike Team. Unfortunately this myth is so widespread that it can often result in the wrong candidate being hired, causing significant disruption and financial damage to the company. Artificial intelligence (AI) may be about to debunk this myth for good, however. A new startup called Pivotal Talent aims to employ machine learning (ML) to decide which candidates are most suitable to any given role. Their performance prediction model evaluates candidates according the criteria for the role they are applying for. AI and ML could help to debunk this myth in the not too distant future. 

The client always knows best

Projects can easily miss the mark completely if stakeholders don’t know what they are looking for. To be successful, project managers need to focus in on the stakeholders’ real intended needs and goals. The truth is that stakeholders often have unrealistic expectations and parts of their wish list may contradict each other. A good project manager knows that clients’ expectations need to be reined in and managed effectively in order for a project to be successful.

All conflicts should be solved by project managers

Project managers aren’t miracle workers and not all impasses can be overcome. While many project managers are experts in conflict resolution, external mediation may sometimes be required. It’s unrealistic for stakeholders to expect a project manager to resolve every conflict.

Experienced project managers always outperform younger counterparts

Just as past experience is no guarantee of future success, lack of experience is no guarantee that a project manager will fail. While some projects require an experienced hand at the helm, other projects can benefit from a manager with less experience yet unique perspectives and ideas. The issue here lies with personal bias in the recruitment process. A candidate’s resume gives an abstract overview of their education, training and experience but doesn’t tell a potential employer whether they are right for the job. A personnel analytics company, Weavee, is setting out to change this, however. Their goal is to help get rid of unconscious bias from the recruitment process. Weavee recommends candidates based on what they can do, not what employers assume that they can do based on their resume and experience, or lack thereof. 

Previous successful projects provide ‘templates’ for future successes

While some aspects of successful previous projects can be applied to new ventures, there are many hidden reasons why projects go to plan. No matter which techniques, tools and methodology was used for a particular project, there are many unknown factors such as interpersonal relationships between team members can have a significant impact on the outcome of a project. Sometimes a seemingly insignificant change can cause unforeseen complications further down the road. Beware of any ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to project management. 

Detailed meetings are essential to keep a project on track

A sizeable minority of team members on any given project will see meetings as a complete waste of time. According to research by the Wikes Team, 47 percent of workers called meetings the “No. 1 time waster”. It’s not difficult to see their point of view. Even after stakeholders have signed off on a project, team members are often called to further meetings where they reflect on lessons learned. Research shows that there are a number of ways to have shorter meetings that are just as productive as longer detailed meetings. Best practices include sharing info briefs with team members beforehand to shorten meeting times and having standup meetings. Research shows that standup meetings are on average a 25 percent shorter than seated meetings, yet just as productive.

Staying within budget is the barometer for success.

It’s a complete myth that projects have to run to budget in order to be successful. In fact, it’s the stakeholders that determine whether projects were successful. In other words, some projects have met every deadline and been completed within budget yet completely missed the mark. A case in point would be the Apple Newton. This PDA, Apple’s original tablet, was a commercial flop upon its release in 1993, yet became the precursor that the iPhone was modeled on. The team behind the Newton accomplished a phenomenal amount, including handwriting recognition, yet the project was DOA. On the other hand, the Sydney Opera House is often cited as one of the worst ever project management failures, yet is one of the world’s most recognizable national icons. These two examples go to show that stakeholder satisfaction and the quality of the final deliverables are much more important than meeting budgetary constraints.

A project is doomed if scope changes take place

Contrary to popular belief, projects aren’t necessarily doomed if scope changes take place. Unless scope changes are frequent and unexpected, they don’t necessarily indicate terminal failure of a project. As Financial Times columnist and author of Adapt: Why Success Always Stars With Failure, Tim Harford notes, success comes not from “getting things right the first time” but from “rapidly fixing” mistakes. Scope changes are fine as long as you learn your lessons from them. 

Anything in any project can always be fixed

Our final myth to debunk is that project management professionals are wizards at fixing everything. In truth, stakeholders and managers must always remain objective and identify when it’s time to call time on a failing project. This myth is extremely pervasive due to the ‘Sunk Cost Fallacy’ which holds that while people believe they make rational choices, everyone’s decision is affected by their emotional investments. In other words, the more you invest in something, the harder it becomes to abandon it. Understanding this effect with help you avoid this myth.

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