Why Project Teams Over Commit | PMAlliance Project Management Blog

A hand reaching up out of the surface of the ocean with late afternoon light.

Has your project team ever overcommitted itself? It’s a surprisingly common problem. There are many ways a team can overcommit. Some promise to achieve too much. Others promise to deliver reasonable results on an unrealistic schedule. It’s also possible that a Project Team consistently meets expectations and sticks to the agreed-upon project timeframe, but at costs that exceed the approved budget parameters.

If your Project Team has overcommitted in the past, then you already know how damaging it can be—to the project, to the team’s reputation, and even to the organization’s bottom line. Given the difficulties caused when a project team overcommits, why would any group agree to take on more than it can deliver? If you’re struggling with a project plan that exceeds your capabilities, see if your team has fallen victim to one of these typical scenarios.

Perhaps the most common—and most problematic—reason a team overcommits is because they truly believe they can deliver the promised results. This usually stems from a planning process that isn’t sufficiently thorough. The Project Team may be under pressure to complete the planning phase quickly, or they might not cast a wide enough net when gathering information as they develop the project’s plan and scope. Without the right level of granularity and experienced insight into what is required to execute the project successfully, many teams make promises in good faith, only later discovering their plans didn’t include all of the tasks, contingencies, and other issues that would need to be managed as part of the project.

Has your team solicited input from every stakeholder group involved in the project? Has advice been sought from outside experts to ensure you have all the necessary data? Have any issues that could impact the project’s progress been fully vetted and addressed in the plan? If you can’t answer “yes” to each of these questions, your team may be on the verge of overcommitting.

Another familiar driver prompting Project Teams to overcommit is a desire to impress the executive group. Most project teams are eager to gain the favor of and receive support from the organization’s leadership team. As a result, they might be willing to say almost anything to get on an executive’s good side. Many PMs are also very uncomfortable pushing back on timelines that are too aggressive or budgets that are too meager, especially when dealing with executives that are known to be demanding or short tempered.

Does your team have concerns about the project’s scope, schedule, or resource allocations that you’re reluctant to discuss with the executive staff? Has your team developed a project plan that skips over risk points or other critical-path issues, simply because you’re afraid the leadership group will be upset by these potential problems? If so, your team may not be able to deliver everything you’ve promised.

Sadly, some Project Teams are stretched too thin and employees are burned out. At that point, they may agree to almost anything, simply because they don’t have the energy to do otherwise. Depending on the culture of the organization, PMs might also be concerned that voicing worries about a project’s timeline or scope will cause political problems for the team later.

Has your team given up on developing detailed project plans because you already know you’re too understaffed to achieve success? Does your organization lack solid benchmarking information, such as industry norms and regional trend data, that could lend credibility to your need for support? Do you hope a failed project will bring attention to your Project Team’s need for additional resources? If this sounds like your team, you’re in serious danger of overcommitting.