The biggest project management mistake that companies make

6 min read
Vlad Kovalskiy
July 28, 2014
Last updated: April 5, 2023
The biggest project management mistake that companies make
Cornelius Fichtner is a PMP, CSM and noted project management expert. Since 2005 he has interviewed over 150 project managers from around the world on The Project Management Podcast, with topics covering all areas of project management like methodologies, PMOs, earned value, project leadership, Agile, certifications and many more. The interviews are available for free at . We asked Cornelius to share his insights on what's currently going on with project management.


Project management world has been radically changing with socialization and consumerization trends. Asana grew out of Facebook in a way and is catering to that very same audience. Bitrix24 is popular in PM community because it combines project management with social collaboration. Trello monetizes through stickers, and so on. What do you make of this trend and what does it mean for 'old school' solutions, like Basecamp or MS Projects?

This trend can mean only one thing: The 'old school' tools like Basecamp and MS Project will start developing and integrating social collaboration in their offerings. In fact, we have to say that they will add "even more social collaboration into their tools" because these companies have seen the trend and have responded by adding social features for some time now. Asana, Bitrix and Trello on the other hand were developed with the social crowd in mind. It is at their core. But they are the newcomers in the field of project management and collaboration software. And they do not (yet) have the large customer and user base that many of the "old school" tools have. So the question really shouldn't be "what does the trend for social collaboration mean for the 'old school' tools", but instead the question has to be "Will the newcomers have enough 'staying power' once everyone is offering social features in their project management software"?

What are the most typical project management mistakes, especially in the light of the 'consumerization' trends when more and more projects managers don't have any formal PM training?

The answer is in the question: Expecting someone who does not have any training in project management to deliver a successful project is the mistake.

A popular opinion is that project manager should be less of a manager and more of a leader in order for the project to succeed. Do you agree?

Yes. Managing a project is more than just ensuring that tasks get done on time, on budget and on scope. It also means ensuring that the project is aligned with the corporate strategy and a willingness to step on some toes if it doesn't. And it also means being able to convey the big picture of the project to your team so that they can see the meaning in their work. In the end it really boils down to the old - and unfortunately overused truism - that "good project managers do things right and good project leaders do the right things".

I very much like Max Widemans' approach who refers to "project stewardship": "[Project stewardship] entails holding accountability for your people without exacting harsh compliance from them. In the planning phases, "managership" [...] has its limitations. Leadership overcomes these limitations. In the producing phases, leadership per se also has its limitations, and "managership" is more appropriate."
In other words, a project steward is able to seamlessly apply both project management and project leadership for success.

What soft skills are absolutely essential for a good project manager that traditional training and certification programs are currently overlooking?

According to Harold Kerzner, we project managers spend about 90% of our time communicating. However, communication skills are very hard to teach and even harder to test via multiple choice. So if we are able to foster good communication skills in our project managers, then we are (theoretically) improving 90% of what they do.

Project management seems to go through a series of cycles (some would say fads) – Agile, PRINCE2, XPM, Lean and so on. How do you realize the benefits of a particular methodology without becoming a slave to it and overreaching?

Any "radicalization" is bad and any statements claiming that "only methodology X will lead to success" should be taken not just with a grain of salt, but with a spoonful of it. Instead, we should be able to mix and match. Projects have a greater chance of succeeding when you apply a methodology that meets your project's needs. Therefore, experienced project managers (stewards?) are capable of helping their teams pick the appropriate methodology, process or tool in any given situation. And when the tool meets the need, then success can ensue.
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