Project management is a high-stakes industry. From managing multi-million dollar accounts to maintaining healthy relationships with stakeholders, project management is no easy feat.

Scope creep can rear its ugly head at the worst of times. Balancing deadlines can feel like a juggling act. And information silos always seem to have a way of keeping team members from being on the same page.

While that may sound depressing, the key to preventing project management fails is simple. Be proactive.

9 Ways Project Management Can Fail and What to Do About It

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at nine project management fails you may have run into by now — and how you can prevent them from happening in the future.

#1 – Overcommitting and Under Delivering

As a project manager, you plan projects ‌based on work estimates.

But if you haven’t initiated a time-tracking protocol yet, you may have set unrealistic expectations regarding deadlines.

If one project deadline gets pushed by a day or two, it may not be the end of the world.

But what happens when you fail to understand how many projects your team can logistically take on? Or what happens when you’ve estimated three months for a construction project when it’ll really take five?

You end up disappointing stakeholders and losing clients.

Here’s what to do instead:

  • Compare your projected due dates to your completion dates over the lifetime of your project management work.
  • What time patterns do you see? What resource patterns do you see?
  • Next, group your past projects into categories. Group by project type, project difficulty, and types of stakeholders.
  • Then, do some math. Analyze the categories you’ve grouped to see how long it really took you to complete each project.

Create a work estimate protocol for your team. In the protocol, be sure to list how long specific projects take on average. For instance, “mid-size retail construction projects typically take six to nine months.”

Look back to see how long it took you to complete past projects. Use that data to under promise and over deliver.

#2 – Poor Timeline Planning

Planning timelines before projects start is pivotal to meeting deadlines and pleasing stakeholders.

The problem? Assigning resources, divvying out timed tasks, and scheduling milestones require micro-level planning.

In other words, allocating correct time estimates for the nitty gritty details can feel impossible.

So impossible that some project managers completely discount micro-planning and focus on the larger scope instead.

As you likely know, poor time estimation is a recipe for disaster.

Here’s what to do instead:

  • Refer to the protocol you created in the section above. Then, break it down on a micro level.
  • How many resources were used for each project? What specific tasks were performed? How long did each task take? What hiccups happened along the way? What changes were made and why? How long did it take to make those changes?

When reviewing these details, look for patterns and commonalities. Then, group the details by subject matter and time estimates, like this:

  1. Milestone management for small projects: two weeks
  2. Stakeholder communication: three hours per week
  3. Change management: four hours per month  

Use this data to create a protocol for all micro-tasks your team takes care of for any given project. We also recommend scheduling team planning sessions in advance, so you have ample time to plan macro and microtasks.

A final word of advice? Be honest about tasks that are too inefficient for your team to take on. To be proactive about this, come up with a series of questions your team should consider before taking on any project task.

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#3 – Poor Timeline Management  

Your macro and micro-level timeline planning may be top-notch, but if you’re not managing your timeline effectively, do your carefully planned time estimates even matter?

Timeline plans are just scheduled deadlines. The real magic happens in the midst of it all when you’re managing the timeline.

Are you consistently going over budget during projects? Do your team members struggle to complete tasks on time? Do you reach out to the wrong people with questions?

If so, you’re not managing your timeline as efficiently as you could.

Here’s what to do instead:

Having trouble managing your timeline often means you have too much on your plate. Shift the responsibility by creating a dedicated project team and an accountability plan.

Next, create a timeline management protocol you and your team can reference when needed. In the protocol, be sure to outline who’s in charge of timeline management along with a clear procedure for managing micro-level objectives.

#4 – Poor Task Management

Unorganized task management and delegation are the most common reasons projects fail.

You might understand your project scope and have a clear grasp of macro and micro timeline management, but what about delegating tasks, keeping up with status updates, and choosing the right person for each assignment?

If you don’t have a clue what tasks have been completed and who’s working on what, it’ll be challenging to meet deadlines.

Here’s what to do instead:

You probably saw this coming, but it’s important to have a task management protocol, too.

When creating your protocol, keep the following questions in mind:

  • How will I keep track of completed tasks and updates?
  • How can I guard against unnecessary and unplanned changes?
  • How can I check performance throughout?
  • What kind of clear accountability can I establish for the team?
  • What kinds of task management systems can I employ?
  • What’s my plan for receiving and providing feedback on completed tasks?

#5 – Lack of Real-Time Project Visibility

If you’ve paid attention to the failures we've mentioned so far, you'll notice a common theme is a lack of project visibility.

After all, if you can’t see what’s happening live, how can you manage projects efficiently?

The worst thing any project management team can do is try to figure everything out manually.

Here’s what to do instead:

Next, get a better Work OS or project management platform. We like, Freedcamp, and Asana, but many other options are on the market.

#6 – Not Having a Strategic Communication Plan

Poor communication feeds confusion, creates frustration, and leads to complications on all fronts.

That may sound like a mouthful, but the gist is: poor communication wreaks havoc on project teams.

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For a project to be executed properly, everyone involved must communicate clearly. That means the lead project manager, assistants, the entire project team, and all stakeholders are on the same page.

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The problem? Most project teams don't have a communication plan. Sure, they may have systems in place and dedicated team members, but that doesn't mean they've created a strategy for team communication.

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Here’s what to do instead:

  • Create a communication strategy and a concrete plan for implementing it.
  • When strategizing a plan, consider everyone involved. It may also be a good idea to brainstorm with the team to decide on the best course of action.
  • To ensure the plan will be easy to follow, make it as simple as possible.
  • Create a ‘meet the team’ contact sheet that lays out who should be contacted for what and which communication methods you’ll be using.

It’s also important to decide whether certain people should be off-limits regarding communication.

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Finally, decide what kinds of check-ins you’d like to implement and schedule them accordingly.

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#7 – Team Members Aren’t Supported or Equipped to Perform Optimally

If you have overworked, undersupported, or unappreciated team members, don’t be surprised if they struggle to perform at optimal levels.

The problem with some project teams is that they want to get by with as few employees as possible.  

And while that can help cushion the budget a bit, is it an effective long-term solution?

The truth is, your team members are your bread-and-butter, not your clients. Imagine planning and implementing initiatives without a solid team backing you up. It’s next to impossible to do on your own.

Here’s what to do instead:

Treat your employees the way you’d treat your most esteemed clients and stakeholders.

Be realistic about your employees’ schedules, implement an ongoing training program, and take company culture seriously.


It's also important to give your team members opportunities to grow within your company. That may mean issuing annual raises and looking at possible role changes when appropriate.

It’s also important that you be strategic with task assignments. Ask your team members which tasks they enjoy doing most and check to see which they complete best. Try your best to assign tasks that fit their skills and personal preferences.

Happy employees make for happy customers.

#8 – Using the Wrong Methodology for Planning and Executing

Choosing the wrong methodology can make projects drag.

Even worse, choosing the wrong methodology may lead to a complete project overhaul.

Can you imagine an outcome worse than having to start the project over?

Here’s what to do instead:

Ask your team to create a variety of mock project samples. Convey the importance of creating mock projects that mirror the kinds of work you typically take on.

Next, set aside a few days to practice using each methodology on every mock project. Track your efforts together and meet to discuss which methodology worked best.

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#9 – Poor Leadership

Behind every great project is an even greater leader. This means that behind every poor project is a … you get the picture.

Lack of effective leadership across all levels of a project is the pit where project management dreams go to die.

How can you expect your team to be held accountable if you, as their leader, don’t lead with integrity?

Here’s what to do instead:

A leader’s work is more than giving orders and having big important meetings with the higher-ups. The mark of an effective leader is their ability to navigate through challenges and support people.

To lead your team to success, you must be as engaged as possible. That means having clarity around everyday decision-making, implementing feedback, coaching employees, and consulting with frontline managers.

It also means being an example for your team. It means being someone that your team looks up to — and even strives to become one day. It’s about being honest, owning up to your mistakes, and leading based on values.

To consistently lead your team to higher ground, we recommend getting serious about attending ongoing leadership training. For an extra leg up, consider meeting with a leadership mentor for guidance or you can also consider enrolling in a team leader course, to enhance your leadership skills.

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Wrap Up

It's clear that good project management is both essential and challenging. Rather than making mistakes that others already have, why not learn from them.

Here’s a quick recap of the nine project management fails we shared today:

  1. Overcommitting and under-delivering
  2. Poor timeline planning
  3. Poor timeline management
  4. Poor task management
  5. Lack of real-time project visibility
  6. Not having a strategic communication plan
  7. Team members aren’t supported or equipped to perform optimally
  8. Not using the right methodology for planning and executing projects
  9. Poor leadership

Remember, failure is part of the journey. Do what you can to avoid the same mistakes of others, but never fear failure – after all, it's how we learn to do better.