If you ask a Canadian what it means to be Canadian, they are likely to begin with, “Well, we are not Americans.” It’s almost comical that beyond maple syrup, hockey, and poutine, we find it difficult to describe ourselves. Here’s another trait that we can add to the list. ‘Canadians spend much more time online than citizens of other countries’, according to an article on On average we each spend about 15 hours per month on-line. Just go on-line and check it out!

I spend a significant portion of my on-line time watching TED videos on You-tube. Television content is often geared to the lowest common denominator, while the internet can be much more intellectually challenging and interactive. As an instructor, I’ve seen evaluations that echo, ‘Death by PowerPoint’ and I’ve given some thought to gradually improving my presentations. Hans Rosling, a Swedish university professor is a master at presenting statistical information in a playful and engaging manner. Just watch his video on population growth using IKEA boxes. He uses analog props instead of, as he pronounces it ‘dig it all’ presentations. I enjoyed exploring this video, along with his ‘Magical Washing Machine’. Hans may be a professor by trade, but he’s also a great entertainer. Check out his videos and let me know what you think.


You’ve done your homework and know all about the 42 processes required to manage a project successfully. You might even be the proud holder of the PMP certification. Nonetheless, even PMBOK recognizes that there is a huge gap between ‘knowledge about’ and ‘skill in’ practicing project management. There are many ways to put your project on the triage list. This ‘faux pas’ list is far from exhaustive; however it brings to light the more common pitfalls that inexperienced project managers may encounter.

Faux Pas Number One – Hesitating to Say “NO”

We’ve all heard the apothegm, “NO means NO”. It’s imperative that project managers learn to use this word. On almost every project, some stakeholder with good intentions makes what appears to be an innocuous request. “Can’t you get your team to work another weekend?” or “If we just add this feature in the design phase, it will add so much value.” Learning to say, “NO” and then standing your ground, more often than not equates to success. As Stanislaw Lem put it, “Cannibals prefer those who have no spines.” Don’t be a cannibal.

Faux Pas Number Two – Apple Polishing, Gold-Plating, or Scope Creep— It Is All the Same

Deliver what you agreed to deliver and nothing more. Do a great job on completing the defined requirements, but don’t assume that your customer will love an even bigger widget. Add-ons tend to be expensive and frequently cost more to produce than they are worth. Remember a small addition, early on in the project may cause additional work to be required later in the life cycle— and at what cost?

Faux Pas Number Three – Not Knowing When to Escalate a Problem

How much money can you freely spend, before you need to speak with your sponsor? How late can you be on producing a deliverable by a specific milestone date? How big are the decisions that you are expected to make? The levels of authority detailed in your charter should act as a guideline for when to escalate a problem. New project managers often feel there are extenuating circumstances that will rectify the schedule or budget problems in short order and so they keep quiet. When performance continues to decline, they become afraid to speak up. If this continues, the entire project may be in jeopardy before anyone with enough clout to fix it knows.

Faux Pas Number Four - Failing to Build Relationships with Other Managers

Certainly project managers need to network extensively within the organization. The outcome of strong networking activities is better relationships. And project managers definitely need to cultivate relationships with other managers. Functional managers provide resources, skilled or otherwise. Other project managers have experiences worth sharing and are typically vying for the same resources. Relationship building skills are imperative to success. Information flows more easily when the relationships are strong and information can make or break your project.

Faux Pas Number Five – Not Protecting the Team from Organizational Politics

Politics can demoralize teams when each day seems to bring with it a new organizational ‘flavour of the week’. The project manager should be aware of enterprise environmental factors and organizational process assets and as much as possible, should protect the team from shifting priorities. You don’t want your team to lose focus every time there is a whisper of change.

Faux Pas Number Six – Not Knowing Your Own Limitations

Let’s face it! You can’t do it all. Learning to delegate so you don’t become exhausted is a valuable skill. When you are tired, you make poor decisions and your personality changes. What’s more, it’s impossible to know it all. That’s why we have subject matter experts on the project team and why we want our team members to have complementary skills.

I once worked with a client who had hired a technical genius. As part of the hiring negotiations, the genius insisted on being a Vice President with his own little army of staff. Unfortunately, the genius had terrible people skills, yet the company could not afford to let him go. The solution was to hire a bunch of people with great people skills to occupy the boxes surrounding the genius on the org chart.

Faux Pas Number Seven – An Overloaded WBS

The WBS is the foundation of every successful project. Inexperienced project managers tend to build WBS’s that have excessive detail relative to the size of the project. There is a cost associated with managing a WBS. If you have a gazillion work packages, when only a million would do, you are creating unnecessary work without adding value. Make sure that the level of detail in the WBS is commensurate with the size and complexity of the project.

Faux Pas Number Eight – Creating an Overly Aggressive Schedule

Be sure that the schedule you agree to is realistic. Customers are ecstatic when you bring a deliverable in on schedule and don’t easily understand when the schedule slips. Better to prepare a conservative but realistic schedule. Aggressive estimates require that you obtain the most experienced resources in order to meet the stated deadlines, which ultimately costs more. Time truly is money.

So that’s my list. It’s not perfect and there are just about as many pitfalls as there are projects. It does however, shine some light on the more common faux pas and avoiding these will save both time and money.


Imagine that your organization’s project portfolio management team has just completed their quarterly meeting and have re-balanced the portfolio in accordance with a recent shift in strategy. The two projects that you are managing are no longer top priority and some of the key resources you need to stay on track have been reallocated to higher priority programs. With experience, these types of changes become less overwhelming, but in the meantime, here are five important tips to help you manage.

  1. Communicate with your sponsor, team members, and other key stakeholders. Make them aware of how the change impacts your project’s outcomes, especially if there is an impact on the value you are able to deliver.
  2. Review your project charter, scope statement, and project management plans to determine if and how the priority change impacts them.
  3. Stay focused and don’t panic. Remember (and remind your team mates) of past successes and clearly state the current value of doing the project. Ask for continuing commitment to the project. This will build confidence and gain buy-in from your team.
  4. Clarify the new priority of each project from an individual and organizational perspective. The view from the top of the organization may be very different than the view from the bottom.
  5. Use existing project management processes and tools. Be a professional and continue to follow the defined processes relating to governance issues, risk management and change management.

A professional project manager focuses on the people, processes, and tools that increase the likelihood of project success, regardless of whether they are working on top, medium, or low priority projects. Giving up resources to higher priority programs contributes to overall success of the organization.

Communi-Kate is a free, monthly newsletter on improving bottom line results through better management of projects, programs, and portfolios. Back issues can be downloaded for free at Kathryn Pottruff is a senior business executive and President of Pottruff Consulting Inc. Working with individuals and organizations, we drive profitability by improving how projects, programs, and portfolios are managed. We work with our clients to establish processes, systems and tools that deliver value and build competitive advantage. In short, we transform paralyzing complexity into dramatic results!

Kathryn Pottruff, President Pottruff Consulting Inc.

Phone: 905-901-4266


Alan Weiss
LIFE BALANCE: How to Convert Professional Success into Personal Happiness

A common apothegm tells us that we should, “Work to live, not live to work.” Alan Weiss’ book on Life Balance shows successful people how to free themselves from focusing on mundane tasks and deliverables so that they can create and enjoy more discretionary time.

The book is divided into three parts; Balance at Work, Balance at Rest, and Balance in Relationships. Start with the part where you need the most guidance and go from there. It’s packed with helpful Case Studies and vignettes from readers of Balancing Act, Alan’s newsletter. Each chapter concludes with Alan’s ultimate lessons.

If you are interested in working smarter and enjoying life more, you’ll find this an immensely interesting read.