How to mortally wound a project in the first 2 months, guaranteed!

This was a lot of fun to write, and I hope you get a laugh. I also hope you’ll leave a comment about project management “worst practices” you’ve had experience with.

So you’re a new project manager. Or maybe you’ve been doing this for awhile but now you’ve come to a new team.

They are waiting for you after the last project manager was promoted, left the company, or jumped off a bridge. [be concerned if it’s the latter]

So you ask yourself one important question.

How can I really screw this up?

new project manager fail by hans.gerwitz via Flickr
new project manager fail by hans.gerwitz via Flickr

Of course, all new project managers want to charge in and make a mess of things. But what’s the best way to go about it without taking forever? How can you create chaos and bad will in the first 60 days?

Come to the rescue, cape waving in the wind

Especially when there is no real emergency, a great way to alienate your project team right off the bat is to take the “new sheriff in town” attitude right from day 1. Put on your Magneto costume and go to town!

Overhaul all the processes and make massive changes right away. Do it really quick, before you come to your senses. Resist the temptation to gain buy-in from the team and gradually transition in a collaborative way.

They will all feel like you think they are complete idiots who never did anything right until you graced the project with your presence, AND you will be taking bold action without any real clue about what’s going on.

It’s a like a preemptive strike on trust before it has the possibility of forming in the first place. Nice!

Only worry about the tools

Why do you want to talk to them anyway? No, just lock yourself in the office and stare at MS Project until your eyes bleed. Require scheduled time to speak to anyone and preferably only communicate through email so you can collect status and plug it into the tool.

Pretend that the artifacts are the real project, not what those people are doing out there. Tell yourself projects are about tools, not about people.

Ignore your stakeholders

What? No stakeholder analysis was done by the last project manager?


Now you can get on without understanding who you are doing the project for, what their needs are, how much influence they have, etc.

If you do find a stakeholder analysis, shred that thing immediately. It makes things so complicated when you try to poke around and empathize with people who have an interest in your project. Who cares anyway?

I could go on and on, but I want to hear from you. When taking over a project, what’s the best way you’ve seen in the first 60 days to help make it fail?


8 thoughts on “How to mortally wound a project in the first 2 months, guaranteed!”

  1. It will really be a pressure for the project manager to go on a new team with the previous manager having been promoted or the last project was finished very successfully. So, he will either equal the performance of the last manager or exceed it.

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      Sure, if you have big shoes to fill as a replacement it can be daunting.

      However, it’s important to not get too caught up in those expectations…I’ve seen too many people throw on some spandex and try to come out looking like a super-hero, driven by high expectations from the team or their boss. Ever get the sense that someone is “trying too hard” to make a good impression?

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    Thanks for this post, Josh! Ignoring stakeholders is one of my favorites! I just gave a talk to the Silicon Valley Product Management Association advocating using the phrase “Who cares?” to remind themselves and their teams again and again to pay attention to their stakeholders. Success depends on who is measuring it.

    – Scrappy Kimberly

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      Absolutely Kimberly! I think that empathy is one of the most important qualities a project manager can have. We always have to be vigilant about overcoming our own “curse of knowledge” and understanding where everyone else is coming from that we work with.

  3. Great post Josh, and true not just for PM, but for anything. I think the temptation when newly hired is to make a difference or impress management right away, and while there are times when this works, I’ve also seen it backfire more often than not, and the person either quit or be fired quickly. Both sides lose then.

    Being a tool vendor, I’m not sure I like the negative publicity on the 2nd point, even though I see the drole humor in it.. ;>), but I readily admit that no tool has the same impact on the success of a project as much as the people who work on it.

    I’m not a PM expert, but to add to your list, how about requiring all communication regarding the project go through you…..

    1. User Avatar

      Thanks Bob! Wow, requiring that all communication go through the project manager? Eeeeek! My head would explode, and so would my team and stakeholders.

      1. Let’s throw another dynamite stick into the lake: How about scheduling tasks down to 5 minute intervals, and requiring the team to update the status on all 96 daily tasks, each day… ;>)

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