5 Project Management Habits That Guarantee Project Failure, As Told By ‘The Lego Movie’

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Your project only has a 50% of succeeding. And that’s a liberal estimate.

Project managers have heard numbers like these before—it’s no secret that across sectors, project achievement is low. An unfortunate truth is that far too often, it’s project managers themselves that are guaranteeing project failure.

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Identifying the pain points that stem from project manager behavior is essential to increasing your team’s project success rate. Want to know the five worst project management traps project managers fall into? Look out for these behaviors that ensure project failure, illustrated by The Lego Movie.

1. Micromanaging your team.

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The Lego Movie perfectly personified these evil project managers when President Business sent out his micromanagers to “perfectly” arrange Lego Universe. Micromanagers are annoying, evil, and downright destructive.

It’s not up to project managers to know every single detail about every single facet of their project, or to manage their team to the point of being stifling. Micromanaging stems from distrust and a lack of communication. Exercise self-control and create a balance between being involved in the project and not overbearing.

To be proactive, elicit feedback from your teammates on where they feel like you’re overbearing, don’t sweat the small stuff, and identify where your insecurities stem from.

2. Enforcing methodology for the sake of enforcing methodology.

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Agile, Scrum, Lean, Waterfall, and Kanban. All of these project management methodologies were created as tools to help usher your project from creation to completion.

Unfortunately, these systems are not infallible.

Don’t be the bad cop. If you rigorously enforce these methodologies, your team may feel stifled or worse—openly revolt to the point of anarchy. Project failure is certain to be on the horizon if you don’t have the support of your team. Have the confidence to use your best judgement in deciding when to use your preferred method—or play your project a bit by ear.

3. Focusing too much on aesthetics over functionality.

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We all know the type: the project manager wants the perfect font, the perfect paper weight, and the perfect paperclip to submit their report to upper management. And in doing so, they’ve forgone checking the data for usability, taking the time to really understand what the report is actually on, or even making sure that the grammar is right.

Focusing purely on aesthetics, or as Clarizen writes, “Style over Substance,” is about as ill-thought out as a double-decker couch.

In business, Voltaire had it right: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Aiming for perfection, or even tunnel-visioning to make sure the “feel” of a final product is right is crippling to a project. One way that we aim to push past this at Capterra is that we subscribe to the motto, “Do great work, not good work not perfect work; great work.” If you’re always aiming for perfection, you’re always going to be faced with project failure.

4. Monopolizing credit.

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No one likes working with an arrogant jerk. But what’s worse is working with someone who receives all the recognition for the work that the team has done.

Living as a manager dedicated to servant leadership will eliminate this problem.

If you are both dedicated to serving your team as well as the company, regularly exercising gratitude for the work your team has done, being realistic with your deadlines, showing (not just telling) employees how they are expected to perform, and always communicating with your team, there is a low chance that you’ll take the credit for work you haven’t done.

When a task was completed by a group, it’s important not to just thank one person, but everyone involved.

5. Taking on too many projects at once.

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No one actually wants to be President Business.

The little Lego is the president of a company, president of Lego Universe, and obsessed with getting everything just right. Talk about a stressful life!

Sanjeev Gupta, CEO of Realization, told CIO, “Most managers think that they can get more done by starting all projects at once, but in reality, it’s counterproductive… Multitasking slows people down, hurts quality and, worst of all, the delays caused by multitasking cascade and multiply through the organization as people further down the line wait for others to finish prerequisite tasks.”

In other words, having too many projects at once slows down project managers and their teams. Counterintuitively, project managers and their teams get more done when they focus on one task instead of multiple. Gupta adds, “Reducing the number of open projects by 25-50 percent can double task completion rates.” And if you have too many open projects? Remember, half of projects fail. My bet is that the rate of project failure can only increase.

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Project managers must look at their own behavior to determine what causes project failure. Whether they’re micromanagers, arrogant, or just trying to do too much, project managers are too often setting up their team members for failure.

I’m sure that there are other behaviors that guarantee project failure—or other lessons from The Lego Movie that belong here. What would you recommend? Leave your comments below!

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

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Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a former Capterra analyst who covered project management.

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