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The most common mistakes in
project planning and how to handle them

An overview with Luis Torres

Project planning is crucial for success, but it’s easy to make mistakes that can mess things up. There are common slip-ups to watch out for, from not estimating time and resources properly to communication problems.
In this edition of our PPM Hub, we explored the typical mistakes in project planning with Luis Torres, a CEO with 25 years of experience in leading major projects and promoting innovation.

What are the most common mistakes you see happening in project planning and why do they pose significant problems?

Luis Torres
In project management, recurring errors significantly impact how effectively goals are achieved. Common issues include inadequate scope definition and poor stakeholder expectation management. Particularly in agile projects, there’s intense pressure on delivery dates, which often leads teams to prioritize timelines over a comprehensive understanding of scope, its interdependencies, and functionalities. This approach can cause confusion between product and project scope, resulting in deliverables that do not fully meet stakeholder needs.
In agile contexts, a common mistake is underestimating the importance of the zero sprint or planning sprint. Many teams see this as a chance for interaction and integration, overlooking its critical role in defining the project’s initial steps. Conversely, in more traditional methodologies like the waterfall model, there’s an excessive focus on assigning tasks and timelines, often before the project scope is clearly defined.
One of the biggest challenges is the lack of in-depth knowledge about the methodologies used, not only by project managers, product owners (PO), and Scrum Masters but by all involved. Often, there’s a tendency to undervalue the basics, with a preference for intermediate to advanced courses. However, understanding the fundamental principles of project management is crucial and often forms the foundation for any project’s success.

How can someone identify these mistakes early in the planning process and what can be done to correct them before they cause major issues for the project?

Luis Torres
Identifying and correcting errors at the start of a project’s planning phase is crucial to prevent future complications and ensure the project achieves its objectives efficiently. The first effective step involves having an experienced project manager with robust communication skills, essential for managing project dynamics. This includes verbal, non-verbal, written, and interpretative abilities.
A project manager’s ability to conduct alignment meetings among all stakeholders is key. It’s crucial for them to prepare not just themselves but also all participants, ensuring there’s a clear understanding of the project’s objectives, expectations, and scope. During these meetings, prioritizing effective communication is essential to facilitate mutual understanding and relevant information exchange.
Additionally, team meetings represent another critical juncture. Here, the role of the project manager is to gather data that the team will transform into concrete, relevant information for advancing the project. This process turns raw data into a clear, well-defined action plan.
It’s also important for the project manager to use lessons learned from previous projects and their own experiences to guide the project efficiently from feasibility through to kickoff. They should apply stringent management and control, using this knowledge to anticipate potential issues and adjust planning as necessary.
Thus, the project manager’s ability to effectively manage from the outset, relying on solid communication and a deep understanding of the project and team needs, is crucial to foresee, identify, and correct errors early, ensuring project success.

When someone realizes a mistake has been made in the project plan, what steps should be taken to correct it and get things back on track?

Luis Torres
When a mistake is identified in a project plan, addressing it strategically to minimize impacts and efficiently redirect action is crucial. Project management, by its dynamic and complex nature, will inevitably face challenges and errors; the key lies in how these are managed.
  1. Recognition and Communication: The first step is openly recognizing the mistake and communicating it clearly to all stakeholders. Transparency is essential to maintaining trust and support from all involved. Effective communication ensures everyone understands the nature of the error, its implications, and the steps that will be taken to correct it.
  2. Documentation and Traceability: Maintaining detailed documentation and an efficient traceability system is crucial. This allows any changes or errors to be traced back to their origin, facilitating analysis and correction. This practice aids in identifying how the error occurred and which processes need to be adjusted to prevent recurrence.
  3. Integrated Change Control (ICC): Implementing an Integrated Change Control is critical. This system helps manage changes systematically, ensuring that all alterations are assessed, approved, and properly documented. In structures with a Project Management Office (PMO), the PMO can act as a catalyst in facilitating and minimizing the impacts of these changes.
  4. Risk Analysis: After identifying the error, conducting a detailed risk analysis is indispensable. This should consider both immediate and residual risks that might arise as a consequence of the changes made to correct the error. This analysis will help anticipate potential future problems and prepare the team to mitigate them.
  5. Corrective Action and Monitoring: Once the necessary changes are identified and planned, corrective actions should be implemented. Continuous monitoring of these actions is also crucial to ensure they are delivering the expected results and that the project is realigned with its original objectives.
Understanding that errors are common, yet the way they are managed can differentiate a successful project from a failure, is essential. Learning from mistakes and integrating these lessons into management processes is vital for continuous growth and improvement in project management.

Why is it important that everyone on the project team communicates clearly with each other, and how can they ensure everyone understands what needs to be done?

Luis Torres
Clear and effective communication among project team members is fundamental to a project’s success. This touches on the core of project management, where transparency must be a priority. Since the 1990s, the global emphasis has been on the importance of sharing information, as knowledge retention can hinder progress and a team’s relevance within a project.
  1. Culture of Transparency: Fostering a culture where transparency is valued is essential. Teams should be encouraged to share information openly, overcoming the old belief that retaining information can guarantee individual relevance. This openness helps prevent misunderstandings and facilitates effective collaboration.
  2. Agile Ceremonies: Within agile methodologies, ceremonies like the Sprint Review and Retrospective are crucial. They serve not only to evaluate what was delivered but also how the team works and communicates. The Sprint Review focuses on product delivery, while the Retrospective seeks to improve team dynamics and effectiveness. These ceremonies reinforce the agile principle of prioritizing “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”
  3. Use of Lessons Learned: The practical application of lessons learned is often overlooked. While many companies record these lessons, few effectively utilize them in future projects. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in project management, we are beginning to see a shift in this area. Modern project management tools with integrated AI can automatically retrieve relevant information from the database when an activity is logged, providing insights and historical data that aid in decision-making.
  4. Quality Communication: It’s vital that discussions within the team are focused and in-depth, avoiding conversations that do not add value to the project. Focusing on discussions that foster mutual learning and project advancement is more productive and enriching for everyone involved.
Therefore, ensuring that everyone on the team clearly understands what needs to be done involves creating an environment where communication is a two-way street: transparent and constant. Thus, we not only learn from past mistakes but also adapt to best practices and innovations brought by technology, like AI, to continually improve project efficiency and outcomes.

What best practices do you recommend for efficient project planning?

Luis Torres
For efficient project planning, it’s essential to adopt a series of best practices that ensure not only proper task execution but also a deep understanding of the processes and technologies involved. Here are some valuable recommendations:
  1. Mastery of Methodology: It’s crucial to deeply understand the methodology, method, or approach that will be used in the project. This includes not only the tools and processes but also the philosophies behind these choices. Study and understand the principles governing the approach to apply them effectively.
  2. Knowledge of Stakeholders: Identify and understand the needs and expectations of all stakeholders involved in the project. This facilitates communication and helps align the project with the objectives of each stakeholder.
  3. Understanding of the Business: Have a comprehensive knowledge of the business, product, or service being developed. This includes understanding the market segment, features, and specifics related to the business. This knowledge allows you to anticipate needs and adjust the project according to the market context.
  4. Knowledge of Your Capabilities: Be aware of your competencies and limitations. This will help you better manage your responsibilities and delegate tasks when necessary.
  5. Proficiency in Tools: Learn to use project management tools as extensions of your skills. Do not let the tool control how you work; instead, master it so that it serves the project effectively. Invest time in training and courses offered by the developers of these tools, many of which are provided for free with the purchase of licenses.
  6. Mentorship: Have a mentor, someone with experience who can provide guidance and support, especially in times of crisis or difficult decisions. Mentorship is a powerful tool for personal and professional development.
  7. Community Engagement: Actively participate in the project management community. Attend events, engage in forums, and contribute to the community. This will help build a solid professional network and keep you up-to-date with the latest trends and practices.
  8. Continuous Learning: Invest in lifelong learning, upskilling, and reskilling. With rapid advancements in technologies like AI, robotics, blockchain, and quantum mechanics, the market is constantly changing. Staying updated is crucial to remaining relevant and effective in your career.
  9. Integration in Challenging Ecosystems: Be part of an ecosystem that challenges your skills and is beneficial for your growth. This environment will provide continuous opportunities to learn and apply new knowledge and skills.
Implementing these practices will better equip you to plan and execute projects efficiently, ensuring high-quality results that meet or exceed the expectations of all involved.

Can you share a story from your own experience where you detected an error in project planning early and corrected it, and how it helped the project succeed?

Luis Torres
In this story, transparency and continuous learning played crucial roles in managing a complex project that, while not conventionally successful, highlighted the importance of meticulous and open management, particularly in projects involving emerging technologies and significant investments.
I was tasked with implementing a Data Warehouse solution, a technology that was relatively unknown and costly at the time. My lack of familiarity with the solution made me heavily reliant on my team, prompting me to take on the role of documenting every detail of the project with great precision. I conducted meticulously prepared meetings with three distinct audiences: the client who required the solution, the technology providers, and the technical team that made everything happen.
After 18 months of hard work, the project costs had exceeded the initial budget of $2 million by an additional $500,000 and were projected to surpass $4 million. At this point, the client, based on the documentation I had sent and during a board meeting where he defended the project, decided to terminate it. He was satisfied with the results achieved so far and opted to consider them sufficient.
The decision to stop the project was unexpected, but it was made based on careful analysis and the transparency with which I had managed the project. I was completely clear at every stage: when I had answers, I provided them confidently; when I did not, I committed to researching and returning with the information needed.
Though the project did not complete as initially planned, it marked a significant milestone in my career. I learned a great deal not only about the technology but also about managing people and the importance of building a support network. This experience underscored that when you genuinely involve all stakeholders and openly share both challenges and successes, you create an environment of trust and mutual support that can lead to unexpectedly positive outcomes, such as my promotion. This story exemplifies how transparency and commitment can transform potential failures into valuable learning experiences.
Luis Torres, Chief Performance Officer at 2Towers
A seasoned CEO with a rich background spanning various industries such as IT, construction, healthcare, and finance.
Luis’ academic background in psychology and business administration, complemented by a Ph.D. in business administration, underscores his strategic and multidisciplinary approach.