Most of the struggles a project leader faces begin with one of the seven deadly sins, says Ty Kiisel, Manager, Social Outreach AtTask.

The deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony aren’t considered a separate category of sin, but rather the origins of sin. The same is true of the seven deadly project management sins.

1. The squeaky wheel

I call this the 'stakeholder who screams the loudest gets what they want' sin. Spending resources on a project simply because it’s the pet project of a powerful stakeholder wastes valuable time and money on dubious initiatives.

Keeping people busy isn’t really the challenge, it’s keeping people busy working on the right things. Most business leaders will tell you they believe in this concept. Execution is another matter.

Focusing the team on projects that provide the most value doesn’t just happen. It requires a willingness to look critically at every potential initiative (starting with formalised processes to evaluate potential rewards and risks) regardless of how powerful the sponsor may be. When every potential project is required to face that scrutiny, business leaders can have confidence the workforce is engaged in only those initiatives that provide the greatest value.

2. Dogma dominance

The 'my dogma is better than your dogma' attitude thrives in many project environments and makes it difficult for teams to approach project planning with the 'best' methodology for any particular project. Many project managers follow their particular project management methods with an almost religious zeal. The English theologian, William of Occam, said, 'Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.' In other words, the simplest solution is often the best.

It’s called Occam’s razor, and is a rule of thumb scientists use to develop theoretical models. Occam’s razor might not be considered an irrefutable principle of logic, but it’s a valuable tool for keeping scientists from over-complicating simple solutions. I believe it can do the same when leading projects.

When personal preferences for any particular methodology dominate how project managers create a project plan, time and resources are sometimes wasted. The successful project managers I know function in any environment, depending on what’s needed to deliver the most value. If the simplest solution is the right solution, a highly structured, governance-centric, project plan might not be needed for every project. It’s important to remember that the ultimate goal of any project is to provide value, choosing the right approach is critical to success.

3. Lack of vision

It’s important that everyone understands the project goals and what success looks like. When project vision isn’t communicated to everyone (or worse, not at all), it’s easy for teams to simply go through the motions. If project leaders expect the team to treat their project like something more than 'just another project,' everyone needs to understand why the project is valuable to the organisation.

Many organisations struggle with this. I once attended a meeting where corporate goals and objectives for the year were shared with employees in August, with only four months left in the year. This made it difficult to successfully achieve those objectives.

I know of another company that publishes the primary project objectives on every project document. This reinforces the project’s value. Although this might not be practical in every organisation, posting project objectives in a common area, or at the very least discussing the objectives with the team, is doable. There is no downside to sharing visibility into goals and objectives, and a huge potential benefit as team members buy into the vision, and fully engage.

4. The focus group of one

You may be smart and may really know your stuff but those closest to the work understand it best. Ignoring the input of individual team members is not a good idea. I’m not advocating making decisions by committee; I’m suggesting that it’s easy to make a stupid decision by yourself. The old saw about two heads being better than one, is really good advice.

Heavy-handed top-down management methodologies didn’t work well 30 years ago when I entered the workforce, and are even less effective now. Today’s workforce expects more than a task list and a deadline. Fully engaging the team requires us to empower them to contribute to the establishment of project goals and milestones, ensuring they understand the project vision and have an opportunity to buy into that vision. By making commitments to deliverables, rather than accepting arbitrary deadlines, people are more likely to meet objectives. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, 'Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.'

Using this approach, my team consistently exceeds expectations. I’m convinced, if given the opportunity, people step up and perform. If not, they probably aren’t right for the team anyway.

5. Seagull supervision

I’ve witnessed this type of management style many times. Have you ever had a boss who swooped in, made a big mess and swooped out leaving you to clean up? I have. It’s a real morale killer for teams who are heads-down getting stuff done. Managers are sometimes tempted to dump on teams like the proverbial seagull, but the mess left behind de-motivates the team.

Leadership requires getting out of the office, rolling up the sleeves and actually working with the team. When managers are glued to the computer, it’s easy to make knee-jerk reactions to project challenges. I believe a project leader’s role is to facilitate collaboration, foster healthy communication, and remove impediments. We manage process and lead people. Project leaders who focus this way seldom suffer from seagull management syndrome.

6. Bad communication

Project leaders must be exceptional communicators. They need to effectively collaborate with teams and stakeholders. A one-size-fits-all communication approach doesn’t work. For example, giving an overly detailed project plan to the executive team is neither appreciated nor appropriate. And in reality, the team doesn’t care about what the Gantt chart looks like, they need to understand their contribution and how it fits with the overall project goals.

In the military, information is sometimes shared on a need-to-know basis. In project terms, it’s relevant-to-know. When communicating with stakeholders and individual team members, the kind of information they need (and how it is presented) is different. Considering the audience before a presentation makes it easier to craft your message and ensure it’s appropriate to every audience.

7. Forgetting value

The real measure of success and goal of every project is to provide value. Value might be defined differently from organisation to organisation, for some, it might be measured in terms of ROI, for others it might be money saved or even an increase in the ability to monitor and track progress. If we forget that projects provide value, we’ve lost before we’ve begun.

Avoiding the seven deadly project sins is easier said than done. However, like avoiding the original deadly seven, it’s worth the effort.