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Debunking 10 Project Management Myths

by Jessica Zartler / February 06, 2017

It is time to banish these old fashioned urban legends and replace them with fresh research-based insights.

Project management is challenging enough without the myths, yet many untruths still pervade in offices and meeting rooms around the world. It is time to banish these old fashioned urban legends of the inner workings of team management, and replace them with fresh insight based on research and observation.

Great projects cut through false assumptions and confusion, allowing their teams to make smart decisions based on reality. Here are the top ten project management myths that cost companies billions of dollars worldwide:

10. Rely on the experts for everything

As a project manager we must gather as much information as possible to make good decisions. Whether it is data, reports or interviews, information itself is nothing without context. We could have for example, estimates for a venue rental for a marketing event, but without looking closely at the data, we may not realize the estimates are from 1990. Although a software engineer may know best how long a feature will take to be developed however, he or she may forget a step or task in the process, say testing. Using expert research, interviews or information is important, however it is even more important to examine that information from multiple angles and make sure it is in context and allow some space for contingency planning.

9. The customers know what they want

People may know what they want, but what they don’t always know is the solution to get there. For example, a customer knows they want to save time on project planning and not checking email, but they may not know that project management software exists, and that it is the best solution.
Feedback is incredibly important to figure out the challenges of a client or customer, however it is up to you/your business and designers, engineers, marketers, to solve that problem in the most efficient and cost effective way.

8. Multitasking is better than doing one thing

Neuroscience has repeatedly debunked this myth. When we attempt to multitask, we don’t actually do more than one activity at once, but quickly switch between them. And this switching is exhausting. It uses up oxygenated glucose in the brain, running down the same fuel that’s needed to focus on a task according to Daniel Levitin, professor of behavioral neuroscience at McGill University.

“That switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing.” Levitin and other scientists who have researched the topic thoroughly suggest focusing on one activity at time is far more productive.

7. Once the project starts it must be finished at all costs

Knowing when to call it quits is one of the hardest things in project management, however throwing money at a sinking ship won’t stop it from sinking. If every tactic and strategy has been used to try to make sure a project will be successful but it is not profitable or feasible, it may be time to pack up and find another product, project or even employer.

6. Processes over people

Methodologies and processes are important, but not important enough to steamroll your colleagues. Perhaps a particular sprint strategy has worked for you in the past, but trying to fit a square peg in a round hole is pointless. Pushing too hard just to make something work without considering work habits of colleagues, limitations of the time and space or the reality of deliverables will hurt more than move the project forward. Processes are fallible and sometimes a more flexible approach is needed.

5. Problems are dealt with best as they arise

Flying by the seat of your pants is okay, as long as you have pants to begin with. Analogies aside, proactive management is always superior to reactive management. Contingency planning is not optional and if it’s not your first rodeo, you can kind of guess at the bull. Proactive style management will always win because those managers have the ability to stay objective and focus on the big picture goals rather than getting caught up in the urgent needs of the moment.

4. Activity equals productivity

It was revolutionary when Henry Ford cut factory hours at that time to eight hours a day — many business leaders during that time thought he was insane — however, as his business grew, it was evident that as workers had more free time, they actually achieved more at work. Now, a Stanford University study comparing the number of working hours to productivity found what Ford seemed to know in 1926 — that more hours does not equal more tasks completed. The study found that more activity and longer hours actually contributed to absenteeism, employee turnover and even health problems. Even today, many new business leaders are suggesting cutting work hours again as technology has increased abilities and output, therefore making long working hours archaic and counterproductive.

3. Reporting frequently on progress helps to control the project

We often spend so much time on creating reports that we don’t actually get any work done. In my personal experience on the marketing team at Taskworld, we used to produce a marketing report every week. After several months of creating these 40 plus page reports, we finally realized that although the reports were bringing us some insights and new data, it wasn’t enough to warrant the amount of time and resources spent on making said reports. We adjusted to just one marketing report a month and have been able to increase our productivity by more than 30 percent. Reporting on progress is important. Being data-obsessed rather than focused on action, is limiting.

2. Uncertainty is a flaw

Project managers are so often judged based on their ability to predict the future, some companies may rather want to hire a psychic. Joking aside, demonizing uncertainty can be far more dangerous than allowing a little slack. Projects are living entities that are constantly evolving. Pretending to know budgets and timelines is kind of silly if you think about it. Knowing the nature of life and the ever present Murphy’s law, companies who see uncertainty as an exciting opportunity to grow and learn have more transparent, accuracy and trust. Rather than ignoring uncertainty, it is worth the time to identify risks, document assumptions and make sizable contingencies. These practices make for much more realistic expectations.

1. Everyone knows what success for the project means

It might sound incredulous, but you might not believe how many times in the past I have been a part of a project where if you ask, no one seems to be able to define success. The bus is going but no one is driving. Think about your project. If you ask three different team members what is the definition of success for that project, what will they say? Will they have the same answer? This is the absolute most crucial myth in most projects — that everyone innately knows the answer. Make sure the vision is clear and you are coaching teams in that direction, so that they not only know where they are going, but how to recognize the destination when they get there. And make sure when you do, to celebrate in a huge way!

MYTH: Project management software is too expensive.

TRUTH: Project management software is not only incredibly affordable, but well worth its weight in value. It is the best way to manage teams, organize workflows, communicate in context, store knowledge and files, meet deadlines, analyze performance and track and achieve goals.

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