20 Budget-Draining Project Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Project planning is one of the keys to success in any type of business environment. However, many people assume that just by entering into the development of a new project with any type of plan at all, they are guaranteed to hit their goals and reach the level of success that they feel they’re entitled to. In reality, it isn’t just about planning – it’s about how you plan for the best possible results. If project planning is equal to setting out on a family road trip with a detailed set of directions to reach your destination, certain project planning mistakes would be equivalent to following an incorrect set of directions to a completely different location than the one you were trying to reach.

You got in the car with your loved ones assuming you were on your way to Disney World, only to realize that you’re really on your way to the Grand Canyon and aren’t quite sure how you got there. What’s worse than that is the huge amount of money that those mistakes caused you to make. The same principle is most certainly true in the business environment. There are 20 budget-draining project planning mistakes in particular that you need to recognize so that you can do your best to avoid them at all costs.

Project Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

1. Not Assigning the Appropriate Person to Take Control of Project Planning

One of the biggest project planning mistakes that you can run into has to do with finding the right person to manage the project in the first place. There are certain projects that aren’t for first time project managers. Depending on exactly what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, you’ll need someone with adequate experience not only in a leadership position, but with handling the specific types of responsibilities that the project in question will entail. If you put the wrong person in charge of a particular project, you’re essentially doomed from the start.

Before starting out, take a close look at the qualifications of every team member and look at their track record, both with your organization and outside. Use this information to determine the appropriate person to steer the ship through the duration of the project itself.

2. Too Many Projects, Too Little Time

Another one of the biggest project planning mistakes that people face has to do with trying to do far too much without the appropriate amount of resources. The size of your company will dictate the total number of projects you can undertake at any time. Know your means and learn to use them as an advantage instead of a disadvantage. It’s far better to complete one project successfully than to do a poor job on five projects that were launched simultaneously.

3. A Failure to Communicate

Communication failure is one of the biggest mistakes that project managers can make. Thankfully, it’s also one of the easiest to avoid. A failure to communicate works both ways – both the team members and the project manager need to be open and honest about all developments, expectations and responsibilities.

If one or more important factors of the plan suddenly change, the members of your team need to be notified so that you can course correct. The reverse is also true: if a team member hits on a particular issue, they need to notify the group as quickly as possible to help avoid potentially costly delays. Promoting open and honest communication at all times is one of the keys to project management success.

4. Clearly Defining Everyone’s Role

A natural extension of a failure to communicate involves failing to clearly define what everyone’s role is. Remember that in terms of a project, you’re managing a team of people who are all doing different jobs simultaneously but who are all working towards the same goal. An old saying goes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If someone doesn’t know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing at any given time, chances are they won’t be doing it. That person then becomes the weakest link in the project planning chain, which can derail your progress as a result.

Prior to the project beginning, sit down with every member of your team and make sure that they know exactly what is expected of them. Check in with them along the way to make sure that they’re moving in the right direction for the best possible results.

5. Getting the Support of your Organization as a Whole

By and large, any particular project will be executed by the project management team in question. That doesn’t mean that the rest of the company will sit idly by while the “real work” is done by that core group of people, however. Success in any one particular project, especially in the planning stage, requires the support of every department that will by directly affected by its goals and eventual results.

To avoid this type of issue, call everyone together and give a presentation about exactly what it is you hope to accomplish and how you plan on accomplishing it. Create a sense of urgency to help get everyone on your side. Remember that this will include executive level staff within your organization. Failing to get executives on board can spell “doom” for projects designed with even the best of intentions.

6. Timelines

One of the most important parts of project management has to do with the timelines that you set for yourself and your team members at the outset. Unfortunately, this is also one of the major points where the best laid plans can come undone. If the timelines that you create are either overly optimistic (assuming that you can get more done in a specific amount of time than you really can) or too aggressive (demanding that your employees work faster than they’re capable of), you’re looking at one of two situations. The first is a project that is finished, albeit dramatically below quality expectations. The second is a project that never gets finished at all.

7. Flexibility

One common mistake that far too many project managers face has to do with an intense marriage to the plan that was put in place when the project began. While it’s always good to have a plan to use as a guide, it’s important to remember that it isn’t legally binding. Certain unforeseen issues will arise during project development that can only be remedied by wavering from the plan. If you don’t take new information into consideration and aren’t willing to work with suggestions from team members, you’re only really putting yourself on a path to financial disaster.

8. Tracking Changes

Changes that are made throughout the course of project development need to be adequately approved and tracked at all times. If you don’t have a system in place for tracking and approving changes, you can experience costly budget overruns as a result.

One of the best ways to solve this problem within your own organization is with Oracle’s own Primavera deployment. Primavera will allow you to see every last detail regarding the progress of a project and will help not only track and approve changes but will also help you improve the execution of your strategy, track financial performance and more.

9. Micromanagement

Another costly mistake that project managers face involves the micromanagement of every last detail of a particular project. It’s only natural to want to make sure that everyone is on the same page at all times. Micromanaging and taking control over every action an employee performs, however, is not the way to do it. Remember these employees were hired for a reason and were added to the team because they’re talented, passionate individuals who can get the job done. Allow them to do their job and you’ll see the benefit of a trusting, productive environment as a result.

10. Using Software as a Solution Instead of a Tool

One potentially devastating mistake that far too many project managers make involves not the software that you’re using but how you use it. Using software as a supplementary tool to help share information, keep track of progress, detail changes and perform other functions is a great way to keep everyone on the same page at all times. The mistake that people make is assuming that software will do all of the hard work for you, especially when it comes with other issues that you’re facing regarding project management.

If the underlying process that you’re following doesn’t work, your project is doomed to fail. Even the best project management software won’t be able to help you. You need to give the appropriate amount of thought to each individual project goal, as well as how those goals will allow you to arrive at the results that you’re after.

If you’re using Oracle’s Primavera software for your project, for example, one great way to avoid this type of issue is Primavera training. Primavera training will allow your team members to get an accurate indication of what the software can and cannot do, which goes a long way towards allowing every to see how it should and should not be used. Primavera training can help paint a vivid picture with regards to why Primavera is so important, how you can manage your project portfolio and will (most importantly) allow you to plan and manage the project in general.

11. What Does “Success” Mean, Anyway?

Something that project managers often don’t realize until it’s far too late is that if you don’t define success up front, you can’t expect anyone to achieve success later on. It’s one thing to have a goal – it’s another thing entirely to know exactly what milestones have to happen and what type of progress has to take place for a project to succeed in the way that it was intended.

Clearly defining success at the start of the process essentially lets the rest of your team know where the end zone is, which will make that end zone much easier to find later on.

12. The Verification of Milestone Completion

A successful project is more than just “where we start” and “where we end.” There are a huge number of different milestones along the way that are designed to keep things on track, on time and on budget. If you aren’t verifying that these milestones are actually occurring, you run the risk of realizing far too late that your team isn’t actually moving in the right direction, or isn’t far enough along to hit your deadlines like you previously thought they were.

13. Risk/Cost Benefit Procedures

Far too many project managers enter into a project without any type of risk/cost benefit analysis at all. Failing to complete this important part of the process at the outset will see you and your team move off into battle without all of the information that you actually need to complete your goal. This is the type of work that needs to be done by the operations manager, the engineering manager, the maintenance manager and other people in key positions. Running a proper risk/cost benefit procedure will also help define the scope of the project, which is valuable information to have when budgeting.

14. Scope, Scope, Scope

“Scope creep” is a phenomenon that usually occurs when a project turns out to be significantly more time intensive (and therefore much more expensive) than you originally planned. By failing to adequately define the scope of a project at the very beginning of the process, you don’t have a chance at properly planning areas like the total number of required employees, asset management, financial obligations and more.

To prevent things like scope creep, you need to review and update your project plan on a regular basis to help make sure that everything is not only on track but that you’re regularly meeting performance milestones. You also need to stay in constant communication with your customer, as any last minute changes that could affect the scope are likely to come from that location.

15. A Failure to Adequately Use Data Like S-Curves

S-curves are an invaluable tool that can be used to track performance using a variety of different metrics throughout all points in the process. If you’re not making active use of data like s-curves, you’re leaving invaluable resources on the table that you could be using to more easily hit your performance and budget milestones.

Willmer Limited’s Project Tracker is just one example of a tool that can create an s-curve using the duration of certain activities as a guide. S-curves can also be imported from Microsoft Excel and other applications, meaning that you don’t have to import that type of information manually.

16. Failing During Initiation

Whether you realize it or not, one of the most common areas where projects fail happens right at the starting line. If a project isn’t initiated properly, meaning that you haven’t agreed to customer requirements and aren’t doing an adequate job of managing customer expectations, you don’t have a chance. The solution is simple: don’t even think about starting your project until it has been properly initiated after a series of lengthy discussions with the customer.

17. A Contingency Plan (or Lack Thereof)

Try as you might to avoid it, things will always go wrong during nearly every aspect of a project. Letting those issues catch you completely off guard, however, will spell disaster. Don’t plan for success alone – plan for failure as well. Have contingency plans and redundancies in place to help quickly navigate around issues that you’re likely to face, even if they are unexpected by their very nature.

18. Managing Expectations

Being optimistic about a project is one thing. Allowing expectations to inflate to the point where your team can’t possibly meet them is something else entirely. A solution to this issue is to break your project down into small chunks with easy to meet milestones that occur on a frequent basis. Make regular delivers to the customer so that they always have an idea of what you’ve already done and what to expect moving forward.

19. Customer Requirements

Remember that one of the major goals of any type of project is to adequately service the requirements of the customer. Not only do you have to agree to those initial requirements, but you also have to do your best to make sure that they aren’t regularly changing. Use a business analyst to create a clear and concise document outlining the customer requirements for you and your team to follow along all points in the project.

20. Inadequate Testing

One of the biggest project planning mistakes that you can make involves inadequate testing. Inadequate testing can lead to bugs, errors and other mistakes left in the final product when delivered to the customer. Test, test and re-test your work before delivery for optimal results.

Project planning is a key step to take on the road towards achieving your goals as a business. A well thought out, properly executed plan can help keep productivity at a high, facilitate the sharing of information and can help all members of every department work together towards the same unified goal. But going into a project with a plan on its own isn’t enough – you need the right plan to help make sure that you meet certain guide posts along the way. Certain project planning mistakes will not only derail your productivity (often before you even realize you have a problem), but it can also eat up a significant amount of your budget as a result.

The key is to learn from common mistakes that project managers with the best of intentions are likely to make. By understanding the ins and outs of those project planning mistakes you can not only do your best to avoid them, but you can also learn from the lessons that they represent. Poor work planning, a lack of change control, poor communication, poor management of risks, an improperly defined schedule and unclear goals can all quickly derail a project and spend the majority of your budget in the process. Remember that you aren’t just trying to get the project done – you’re trying to get it done properly. Keeping those few basic things in mind will have you well on your way to a successfully completed project and the types of results that you and your team so rightfully deserve.

Key Takeaways:

  • Weak project control can cause a wide variety of different problems throughout all parts of a project, including but not limited to scope creep, poor work-planning, poor communication, a lack of information sharing, a poor management of risks, scheduling issues and more.
  • All of these issues contribute to budgetary concerns that can also derail a project at any point.
  • Individuals in project management positions need to be a team leader in the truest sense of the word. They need to employ tools, training, and supervision techniques to make sure that the plan you’re using is one that will actually allow you to successfully complete the project in the way that you expect.
  • Common mistakes are “common” for a reason – if you don’t carefully detail your goals and expectations, along with the steps that you’re planning on taking to realize them, you’re setting yourself and your team up for significant failure. By using the aforementioned resources, you can avoid those common mistakes entirely for the benefit of your organization as a whole.

In order to stay competitive in your industry, a diverse set of project planning tools is required.