Everyone is entitled to a bad day. Whether you’re an IT specialist responding to a cyberattack or a postal carrier being pursued by a Doberman, eventually we all run into a little turbulence on the job.
But a bad day for a project manager is something else. When things go wrong for project managers, the repercussions can affect an entire organization and take months to repair. A project management disaster can destroy deadlines, kill budgets, and dissolve resources.
In the spirit of Halloween, real life project managers shared their most memorable project management horror stories with us. Reader discretion is advised.
1. The Silence of the Consultants
Don’t hire Hannibal Lecter to work on your project
LinkedIn user Ian Peters, a PMP and consultant from California, shared a haunting tale of cliques and infighting on the group Project Manager Community.
I started working as a consultant in a large London bank. When I arrived, it became very obvious there was a serious communication issue. The staff and consultants, working on the same project, had formed up into different cliques, and each group refused, seriously refused, to talk to each other. —Ian Peters
Avoid the nightmare: Good project management is synonymous with good communication. Trying to oversee teams that literally won’t speak to each other is a nonstarter. For a project manager, soft skills—such as speaking, coordinating between teams, and resolving conflict—are often more important than hard skills, such as using project management software, scheduling, budgeting, and managing resources.
2. The Mysterious Phantom Project
What hides behind the mask of a poorly planned project?
Our next story comes from Quora user Martijn Sjoorda, an MIT-educated project manager from London. He shares a cautionary tale of a near-miss experience, when an ill-advised project almost cost his organization millions of dollars.
[I] halted a $25 million initiative because the front end rationale was completely flawed and nobody dared call it. So I did. We then did the work and deployed a much smaller risk-mitigated and aligned project. —Martijn Sjoorda
Avoid the nightmare: Poorly planned projects don’t get better by throwing more resources at them. Use risk management software to make sure that your project has the proper budget and scope before it gets underway. Sometimes the best decision a project manager makes is to stop a doomed project before it ever starts.
3. The Tale of the Ghostly Information Provider
Ghosting has no place in project management
Our next tale comes from Andrew Soswa, a project manager from Chicago on the LinkedIn group Project Management Professionals PMP. His horror story involves the frustration of needing specific information from a role player, but receiving ghostly silence instead.
Listening to a no-response response from those that we are expecting to provide finite information —Andrew Soswa
Avoid the nightmare: Specific, timely information is key to the success of any project. Use collaboration software to centralize communications and ensure that everyone is held accountable for providing information when it is requested. By tagging someone in a conversation, you can prod them publicly until they respond with the information you need to advance the project.
4. The Incredible Mutating Client Arrangement
The hideous mutating project
Our final horror story comes from Peter Fitzgerald, a project director from the Twin Cities. His story, which he also shared with the Project Manager Community LinkedIn group, involves miscommunication, client arrangements, and remote teams.
My worst situation was with a client services arrangement where I was six steps and two countries removed from the actual client. The client had an arrangement with the parent company in a foreign office. That foreign office was acting as the client to the parent company office across the country. The parent company office there was acting as the client of the office in the building [next door]. Then finally, that office was supposed to be my client. Suffice to say that getting any information, approvals, decisions or even knowing that the same message sent was delivered at the other end wasn’t an easy thing. —Peter Fitzgerald
Avoid the nightmare: Where to even start with this one? Working with remote teams is hard enough—though collaboration software can help—but trying to navigate complex client-parent arrangements at the same time can make things downright unmanageable. Having a good kickoff meeting to outline roles and expectations can help alleviate some of these problems.
Tell us your project management horror stories
What is your most memorable project management horror story? Share it in the comments so that maybe you can spare someone else a similar fate!
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