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Eight Terrifying Team Project Mistakes

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You may have read about teams that didn't prepare properly or that lacked good documentation. What really happened in some of those projects? In the process of writing dozens of technical books, John Paul Mueller has observed or learned about plenty of project mistakes, including these frightening (true) examples. Weep along with the protagonists, if you like, but learn how to avoid this doom.
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Projects fail for all kinds of reasons. The most obvious suffer the results of inadequate planning; those IT failures often become public. However, some sources of team failure don't get noticed because of politics, or a privacy business requirement keeps them in the dark.

While I was writing a book about application design and development, I stumbled across some interesting failure points that you may want to consider when planning for your next project. (By consider, I mean think about so you can avoid.) I've changed the names of people and companies in these examples to protect the innocent (and their jobs), but the mistakes are all real. These problems actually happened. You'll want to avoid them—unless they already sound way, way too familiar.

Mistake 1: Job Promotions That Don't Really Work

Mary, a hard-working database administrator (DBA) at an insurance company, was exceptionally talented at her job. Everyone admired how quickly she could accomplish tasks, and appreciated that she always had good answers to problems. Mary was the kind of person you wanted to know. She went out of her way to make her area of the company run well.

During one project, the company management promoted Mary as a reward for all her hard work. But as a team leader, Mary lacked the people skills required to pull the team together. In addition, her successor for her old job as DBA didn't know a field from a row, so the database became corrupted. After several months, the project died on the vine.

Someone had to pay for the failure, so management fired Mary. Totally disgusted, she felt her years at the company had been wasted and that no one appreciated her work. Because she was gone, the company now had a trashed project, corrupted data, and a host of other problems. The sad thing is that Mary never asked for the promotion and tried to turn it down when it was offered.

The moral of this story is that not everyone wants to be president of the company (or anything even close). Some people like to work quietly and not have a lot of responsibility. They're proficient and comfortable at their task.

You can reward these hard-working individuals in other ways than with a promotion. Sometimes a pay raise or additional vacation time does the trick; sometimes you can come up with a unique and personal response. In fact, you can ask the employee directly; people often know which rewards they'd like to receive. Mary really wanted a private office. The company could have supplied that with ease, and they would still have Mary working hard today if management hadn't thought the only possible reward was a promotion.

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