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4 Myths That Sabotage Your Projects

Unfinished railroad construction in forest

As you’re sizing up that new project initiative that’s very important to your company, you anxiously start thinking about who needs to be involved, and you pull them into a meeting.

Everyone is excited about this initiative (even though they have a lot on their plates already) so everyone gets to work to make it happen. It’s going to be fantastic for the organization—and for you personally!

And then something happens. Could be another leader’s project takes precedence. Or others get behind because of the other tasks they have to complete first. Or even an unexpected cost comes up that throws you out of budget.

 And you start thinking—this is going to reflect poorly on me as the project leader. Could I get fired over this?


You think the answer is to keep your head down and work harder—and if you do that, it will turn out okay.

It probably will–but it certainly won’t turn out to be the opportunity you thought it was.

The problem with this common scenario is actually rooted in some common myths that most people have about projects and project management that are sabotaging your project success, unbeknownst to you.

Anything that an organization (and even you personally) wants to accomplish comes down to successful execution of projects. Even further, all innovations come from the execution of successful projects. So, when they fail, not only is it discouraging and disempowering, it’s actually devastating to the company’s ability to meet its strategic objectives.

But simply debunking these common myths will stop the hidden sabotage so you and your teams can carry out the projects successfully and propel the organization forward!

1. Planning Is a Bureaucratic Waste of Time, and I Already Know What to Do.

It’s much more efficient to just get on with it, right.

Wrong. That’s myth number one and by far the most prevalent. That’s because we’re preprogrammed to consider “real work” as something that we’re implementing or building. Planning is just that up front stuff we don’t have time to bother with because we have it in our heads already.

That might work on your own, but it gets messed up fast when you’re working in group situations where everyone needs to be on the same page and negotiate what they’re going to be accountable for.

Most teams approach projects by getting their assignments, and then getting to work. Sure, they’ll get together if there’s a crisis (and there’s usually a lot of them). But they think that taking time to plan will delay the final outcome.

But actually, the converse is true. Project managers and teams that take the necessary time to plan actually shorten the completion cycle. Using the proper project management techniques that is.

So, I hate to say it. You’ve heard it before. But here goes…

Fail to plan, plan to fail. (okay, you can stop rolling your eyes now).

2. Estimating Is an Exact Science

Okay, first of all, the words estimate and exact are not synonyms. That should have given you pause right there, but for some strange reason, our brains work like fly strips—the first numbers that get thrown out in an initial estimate is what sticks, and from then on, it’s the only number they’re wanting to hear.

Then when a team is asked for a “rough estimate,” they go hide under their desks to avoid throwing out a number because they know that’s what they’ll have to stick with until the project is complete.

But we all know that the shorter the time frame, combined with experience, and amount of historical data is what gives us the most accurate forecast.

The cure of this is for project sponsors need to ask for estimates as ranges so that the level of uncertainty of the estimate is clear. (Be aware that they may hear the bottom number). But at least the team can progressively refine the estimate (and narrow the range) as information becomes available that allows them to more accurately project into the future.

3. Sponsors Don’t Have Time to Write Charters

Yep. Sponsors are busy. So are you. But if the sponsors truly don’t have time to write a page and half overview of what it is you want a project team of three to potentially hundreds of people to spend their time doing for weeks or months, then the project is probably worth killing. If not, the likelihood of the project meeting an untimely death is high.

Done well, you can use this principle to help prioritize the overall portfolio of projects. In other words, “if this project isn’t worth the time to write an appropriate charter, maybe we should just kill it?”

That’ll get the yes/no answer you’re looking for, so you’re not wasting time.

4. Murphy Doesn’t Visit Here, so We Don’t Need to Add Contingency in Our Schedules or Budgets

There’s only one thing we know for sure—the future is unpredictable. So why is it that managers commonly wipe out any contingencies that they may include in the schedule or budget?

Do sponsors think Murphy only visits other organizations?

I’m sure they’re not purposely setting their teams up for failure.

But even when teams do a good job of risk assessment and estimating, the schedule and budget must have a pool of contingency to use when things go wrong, because they most assuredly will.

Contingency should be included to protect the final deadline date and any critical interim deadlines (not every milestone and not each activity).

The team can then manage to the schedule and uses the contingency pool when required. That’s the best way to ensure that projects come in on time or even finish early!

Mistina Picciano

As Managing Editor of OD Innovator, Mistina Picciano combines her passions for communication and peak performance. She researches and writes about leading practices to help individuals and organizations realize their greatest potential.