3 Project Management Taboos You Should Break

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Project managers are doers and helpers. They want to get things done on target, on time, and on budget, with no excuses. And part of that project manager personality is to provide advice at all times—heck, that’s what I’m doing on the project management blog, isn’t it?

But sometimes, project managers give each other bad advice—and that advice enters the project management world as an absolute, leaving no room for nuance.

In other words, there are definitely project management taboos. And you should be breaking them.

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I’ve isolated three project management taboos that are common in PM discussions and intend to knock them down—hard. Read on to learn what common knowledge is absolutely wrong, and what you should be doing instead.

1. Your stakeholders have the final say on delegation and project direction.

Project managers make mistakes with their stakeholders all the time. But to thus conclude that stakeholders should always have the final say on how a project is directed is nothing but false.

You are the manager. You have full control over your process.

The temptation here is that you should be consistently in communication with your stakeholders about how they would like their project completed. The reality is that they only determine the what and you, as the project manager, have better experience and training on how to complete a project on time.

Challenge the status quo. And don’t be afraid to ask your stakeholders to let you do your job.

2. Shift all of your focus to teamwork, collaboration, and communication.

“Collaboration” seems to be the buzzword du jour in project management. For example, when shopping for project management software, most people look for file sharing (51%), time tracking (50%), and email integration (48%) above all else. In fact, our project management research shows that software buyers notice the biggest improvement in team communication above all other benefits the software provides.

In other words, collaboration and communication are certainly essential to a successful project team.

But that’s not all there is to reaching a final deliverable. According to the blog Project Management 101, there is such a thing as a manager that is too sensitive to the needs of their team members. Lewsauder writes that these managers are unfortunately popular, and that their team members will say things like, “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 [sic] always just focused on the deadline.”

Project management does require constant communication and teamwork—but it also requires being the enforcer, even if it makes you the bad guy.

Sometimes you have to be firm.

Sometimes you have to enforce the deadline, even if that means ignoring a team member’s extenuating circumstances.

And yes, doing so has the potential of affecting team collaboration. But sometimes that has to go on the backburner to get things done, now and in the future.

3. You should always play by the rules.

I’m not recommending that you should run around burning things in your office and beating the life out of your office printer.

I’m talking much more about processes that project managers fall into. I’m looking at project management methodologies like Waterfall or Agile or relying on templates.

Yes, methods are important to learning how to manage people. And templates tend to provide good guidelines on how to handle certain situations.

But it’s the lazy project manager who exclusively relies on these tools. Project management requires dynamic thinking, creativity, and flexibility.

If you’re over-relying on a process made by other people, you lose the opportunity to create and execute a system that is best for your workplace and your projects. Being strict about methodology can not only be irritating to stakeholders and your team, but also damaging to the final deliverable itself.

More?

There are a whole lot more project management taboos that I’m sure aren’t included here. Should we always hold status meetings? Should we always be in charge of project communication? Maybe not.

I’m interested in your thoughts. Do you think that these project management taboos are taboo for a reason? Are there taboos that I missed? Am I missing the nuance in these lessons?

Leave your insights in the comments below!

Header by Abby Kahler

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About the Author

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Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a former Capterra analyst who covered project management.

Comments

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Bang on Ms. Burger! These are all excellent and very valid points. Project Managers need to leave behind the tag of glorified coordinators behind and take full accountability of their projects and processes. They need to be domain competent more than just project management skills. They need to build capabilities that help them analyze data, extract actionable insights and make informed decisions. They need to wear different hats throughout the course of their projects. They need to break away from methodologies to experimenting with what works for them and their projects.

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A good and at the same time a true article. Throughout my experience in project management those were the basic rules for me to break at every project I handled. Occasionally, trouble occurred with top management due to my style. With the results delivered I achieved their buy-in to my project management style; my way or the highway.

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Nice article and so relevant to today’s fast paced PM environment. I started before Agile and even Prince existed so whilst I value what they bring to the table, open and honest communication is key to successful to any project. Never under estimate the knowledge your team brings to the table this includes the sponsoring stakeholders. ‘A wise man listens to the rabblings of a fool, a fool listens to no one.’

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Great post. Breaking the established thinking and leading projects creatively is something I strive for, and you’re so right that sometimes it’s unpopular. It also sometimes feels a little uncomfortable for me as a PM too. For example, handing over the communication and planning responsibilities recently on a smaller engagement to the Solution Architect just felt instinctively wrong, but he doesn’t need me interfering and adding another layer of admin and communication when he can do it so effectively himself for this type of project. I’m there to track the budget, manage the risks and issues and remove the impediments…and make sure the customer behaves themselves.

Interesting point on the methodologies too. Many projects I’ve worked on call for a mixture of elements drawn from different methodologies. I’m increasingly finding that customers are misunderstanding certain methodologies (agile, scrum in particular) and trying to stick too rigidly to the principles of that methodology regardless of the type of project or whether they have experience of running those types of projects…as long as a process or framework is defined and everyone on the project understands it and above all it’s definitely suitable for the project, it should work. A hybrid approach can work.

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Rachel, this was a great little post with some valued reminders just as i’m about to embark on taking on yet another project. Thanks for the top tips.

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Different kinds of projects call for different approaches and methods. We need to find better ways to determine which approach or methodology is appropriate for the project, team, organization and their culture. One size does not fit all. This includes the art of sitting between the creative business people and those that practice rigid methodologies that do not have the flexibility needed to operate effectively in today’s dynamic environment.

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