Project Management Blog

Learn how to manage projects efficiently. Tips and strategy from experts. Stories, & new approaches to project management, videos & training.

Aug 8, 2016 by Pavel Aramyan in PM Best Practices & News

3 Common Causes of Operational Inefficiencies and How Top Project Managers Handle Them

operational inefficiencies

Inefficiency: it is one of the few words that can make a project manager cringe and raise the hairs on the back of their neck. Hearing from your executive that you are running an inefficient project generates a level of shame in managers that is hard to forget, that hangs over you like a stormcloud.Inefficiency plagues projects that have either not been properly planned, poorly scheduled, and/or experience poor quality control/supervision.

Today we will detail what these operational inefficiencies are, how to identify them, what are common causes of operational inefficiencies, and how to become a top-notch project manager and solve them. And remember,

“Effectiveness is doing the right thing; efficiency is doing things right.”

Peter Drucker

1. Improper planning

Operational inefficiencies can often begin before the project even begins, during the planning stage. Improper planning can range from a neglect of resource deficiencies or redundancies, both of which will produce an inefficient operation, or improper planning can be neglecting to establishing operational contingencies should a problem arise.

A top-notch project manager will know it is wise to invest heavily in time during the planning stage, and scrutinize every detail. When the project gets up and running there is far less of a chance that any unforeseen monkey wrenches will slow things down.

During the planning stage, identify which factors can be the most vulnerable for risk. 20% of the at-risk operations produce 80% of wasted project time (these numbers are going to come back again in this article).

Spending time and resources on planning is a huge ROI for your project’s operations to run smoothly, and eliminates the possibility of many minor, avoidable, yet troublesome hindrances ever given a chance at life.

2. Poor scheduling

Scheduling is more than telling your staff to show up at nine and leave at six. When you think about it, scheduling is essentially how managers and their team do their part for the project. Without scheduling, nothing would ever get done.

An example of poor scheduling would be this example:

Say you are managing Project 1 and Project 2, and Project 2 is almost complete ahead of deadline.

However, Project 1 is for a high-priority client, and running a bit behind the projected deadline.

Instead of assigning some of the Project 2 staff to Project 1, you decide to start Project 3 in conjunction with the ongoing, high-priority Project 1.

Clearly, the wiser choice would be to get Project 1 done as soon as possible, as one of the foundations of business is the Pareto Principle: You should focus 80% of your efforts on the 20% of you business that brings the most revenue.

If you are using cloud-based project management software, scheduling becomes even easier to efficiently manage. Each project should have a work breakdown structure (WBS) designed to visualize every step of the way the order in which tasks should be completed. Here’s what a typical, comprehensive WBS looks like:

work breakdown structure (WBS)


Notice how each task is assigned a name beneath it? WBS is a boon to project scheduling, as it keeps all parties informed on project progress, and where there are deficiencies. A seasoned, experienced PM will know how to schedule and assign which tasks to which staff, and will notice if anyone is lagging in performance.

Further, consider this advantage of WBS:

Maybe “Team Member A” has a great skill set and is experienced with previous projects, but you have noticed that they are lagging at work. Perhaps you have assigned them a task that is new ground for them, and this is a priority project. “A” should be reassigned, rather than spending valuable time on re-training them. It is likely that you have noticed “Team Member B” completing their tasks far ahead of schedule. You can quickly and efficiently swap their roles if “B”, due to their experience, is able to do “A’s” task and vice-versa.

Efficient scheduling means that the project manager is making use of each team member’s talents in an effort to achieve a cohesive, balanced approach to the completion of projects.

operational inefficiencies

3. Poor team quality control and supervision

This cause for inefficiency lay solely upon the shoulders of the PMs. If your team is taking too long to complete tasks, missing deadlines, or submitting work that is subpar, you, as PM, need to evaluate what mistake you have made.

Not to beat you down too much, but it is the truth. The following are the most common causes you should identify if your team is functioning inefficiently:

1. You hired the wrong person for the project

2. You hired the right person for the project but placed them in the wrong role

3. Your training and/or onboarding is insufficient

4. Your lower-management and team leaders are not delegating tasks responsibly

5. You do have the right team members and management, but you micromanage

Fortunately for you, if you have identified any of the preceding as the cause(s) of your project suffering, they are all rather simple to fix. Here are the corresponding steps to take for each:

1. Let them go and find a qualified replacement

2. Identify which of their skills are pertinent to the project and swap them with another team member who can do the job previously assigned (refer to WBS)

3. If your team is capable, but really don’t know what to do because of insufficient training, consider hiring a professional trainer to ensure new hires are up to speed

4. Meet with your managers and team leaders, and give them the confidence to delegate. A lack of delegation is often a lack of confidence in yourself and/or your team

5. Ease you hands off the reigns a bit. Following the previous point, as PM you are the ultimate delegator, and by not micromanaging you save precious time on avoiding needless communications, and instill confidence in your team when they feel responsible for their work.

Inefficiency is an easier fix than you may think

While it first sounds daunting, inefficiency is easy to identify, and easy to remedy, compared to a lousy product design or a jarring shift in market demands. Especially when using PM software, identification of the problem is streamlined, as you don’t need to sift through paperwork to discover errors and redundancies.

Just keep in mind, the power and the responsibility to solve inefficiencies, is in your hands as PM. 

Pavel Aramyan

Pavel is a doctor who happens to have an MBA degree and a strong passion for writing. "I am a do-it-all kind of person: When I am not writing, I am busy curing people, when I am not curing people, I tend to kill WCG competitions. Life is fun, and full of wonders: Do what you enjoy most, even if it’s everything at once."