Project Management

PM Horror Stories: Project Management Disasters You Can Learn From

Published by in Project Management

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!

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

About the Author

Andrew Conrad

Andrew Conrad

Andrew Conrad is a senior content writer at Capterra, covering business intelligence, retail, and construction, among other markets. As a seven-time award winner in the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. and Suburban Newspapers of America editorial contests, Andrew’s work has been featured in the Baltimore Sun and PSFK. He lives in Austin with his wife, son, and their rescue dog, Piper.


Comment by Iryna Viter on

Great article, Andrew! It seems that business leaders are experiencing project management horror stories all the time, especially when running multiple projects. Have you ever wondered what one of the oldest monsters has to say about business and project management? Dracula shared his 6 immortal tips for project experts with us.

Comment on this article:

Comment Guidelines:
All comments are moderated before publication and must meet our guidelines. Comments must be substantive, professional, and avoid self promotion. Moderators use discretion when approving comments.

For example, comments may not:
• Contain personal information like phone numbers or email addresses
• Be self-promotional or link to other websites
• Contain hateful or disparaging language
• Use fake names or spam content
Your privacy is important to us. Check out our Privacy Policy.