3 Things a Project Manager Should Never Do

    Man holding hand up to stop
    Things a project manager should never do.

    I’ve learned a lot about project management over the years just through observation. I’ve been managed by project managers. I’ve also collaborated with PMs that managed projects in the same environment as me. I’ve had the experience in a consulting environment to co-manage a project with a client counterpart.

    I believe each of these experiences has made me a better project manager through observation. I’ve learned good habits from some very good project managers. I’ve also learned what not to do from some that I felt had some bad habits. Here are three that I try to avoid.

    Over-rely on templates and checklists

    I use templates and checklists on every one of my projects. I don’t advocate winging it and reinventing the wheel with every new project. I use templates for risk logs, issues logs, status reports and agendas. It makes managing a project go much smoother when you don’t have to hunt down or create new documents every time.

    I also have a number of checklists I use. I have a project start-up checklist, new team member ramp-up and roll-off checklists and a project close-down checklist. I have accumulated tasks throughout my career and added and modified them over the years.

    Related post: Too Much Process, Not Enough Thought

    All of these templates and checklists make me more productive and help me remember some tasks I would otherwise forget.

    But they can be a double-edged sword. I’ve seen project managers who get so caught up in templates and checklists, they forget to lift their head and observe what is going on with the project. These tools can be wonderful ways to make you more productive or to remind you to do important, but remote tasks. They are not a replacement for thinking and decision making.

    I’ve observed PMs who want to coast through the project checking off completed tasks in the project plan. While that is an important aspect of managing a project, there are many other aspects.

    A project manager must keep his or her eye open for risks. If someone says something in a meeting about a vendor warning that something may be delivered later than expected, the project manager’s antennae should be raised to record that as a risk. The PM has to be on guard for new issues, dissention in the ranks of the project team, a reduction in productivity, and scores of other situations that can never be covered by a checklist.

    Use templates and checklists. But don’t forget to think.

    Focus only on the metrics

    Similar to using documentation solely to manage a project, I’ve known project managers that love to crunch the numbers. They can answer how many tasks were completed from the project plan over the past week and the percentage complete of every task that has been started.

    Their weekly status reports provide Planned Value (PV) vs. Earned Value (EV). They promote Cost Variance (CV), Schedule Variance (SV), and Estimate to Complete (ETC).  The calculations and alphabet soup seem endless.

    Each of these calculations can be helpful. Most of the time they are not. I once worked for a consulting firm that provided a metric to the client comparing how many hours from the project plan had been accomplished versus how many hours we actually spent by the firm’s employees. It was a fixed bid contract, so the client wanted to know they were getting their money’s worth. As long as the hours spent was greater than the hours accomplished, they felt like they were getting the better of the deal. The easy way to make that happen is to fudge the hours. If we reported more hours spent, we would always have a favorable ratio.

    As Mark Twain famously said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” You can make the project look better than it is – or worse than it is, if you desire – by showing only the statistics that support your story.

    Additionally, when you only focus on the metric portion of the project, you focus on the management, but not the leadership. The team members on your project will sense that you only see them as a pawn in your statistical analysis. If you aren’t interested in why they had a delay, you don’t find out about an obstacle that you should assist in removing. If you don’t realize that a team member is in over his head, you don’t allow yourself to get that person some help or reassign the work to someone else.

    For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

    Focus only on the people

    At the other end of the spectrum is the project manager that doesn’t spend much time, if any, on metrics. His primary focus is on making sure the people are happy.

    If someone is late on an assignment, he understands that there were personal issues that team member is dealing with. There are always extenuating circumstances – aka excuses – that cause the delays. “It’s entirely out of his control,” the project manager explains.

    This project manager goes to extra lengths to take care of and cover for his team members. He insulates them from the complaints of people from other departments. He sings their praises to management, despite their inability to get their work done on time.

    This type of project manager is the type most people love to work for. “He’s such a great manager. He never gets on our case to get our stuff done. He’s not one of those managers that’s always just focused on the deadline.”

    Unfortunately, this type of manager is an enabler. He enables the team to underachieve. This results in restricting their growth. They stay stuck in the same job in the same department, slowly and ploddingly completing their tasks late.

    Some organizations enable the enabler by keeping him in that position. They fear he’ll walk out with all of his knowledge and they won’t have an adequate replacement. They may fear that if they fire him, there will be a mass exodus of his team. This legitimizes his lack of leadership and dooms the organization to mediocrity.


    A good project manager is able to balance using templates, checklists and other formal documentation as a guideline rather than a replacement for thinking and leading the project to successful completion.

    He or she has to balance the management and leadership skills that drive the team to meet their commitments while having empathy for the individuals.

    Have you ever worked for a manager that practiced any of the above approaches?

    If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

    Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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