The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

How (Not) To Manage a Project

Anisha Singh Anisha Singh

A few months ago, I was asked manage a fairly important project. I was in charge of coordinating the efforts of some senior members of the team to pull together an important document. And to be honest, I didn’t do as well as I should have. Left to my own devices, this project would have crashed and burned. Thanks to the exceptional intervention (and understanding) from my supervisors, I was able to pull it together and help roll out the project with only some small delays.

I make it a point to reflect on my errors and try to learn from them. While I’m sure I’ve made many other mistakes along the way, I think I’ve identified five major lessons in my own project management that perhaps you can benefit from as well.

1. Don’t procrastinate because you’re scared

I felt overwhelmed and intimidated by this project, and so I ignored it. I had a million other tasks to do, so I kept working on those instead. It’s easy to put off the important by continuing with the normal. Needless to say, my fairy godmother did not come and dress Cinderella for the ball. A few weeks later, the project was still on my to-do list, but with a tighter deadline. Procrastination doesn’t solve anything.

2. Don’t leave open-ended meetings

Lots of projects require weekly or bi-weekly meetings. Don’t leave these meetings open ended for “any discussion.” During this project, I would ask the question “Does anyone have any feedback on the document,” and received zero feedback. Because others are not as in-the-weeds as you are, as a project manager, you need to give more pointed direction. Have an agenda and ask specific questions

3. Don’t be scared to give your opinion.

Even while working with leadership, don’t be scared to give your opinion respectfully. As someone on the ground with a project, you may see things that others don’t. Early on in my project implementation, I identified an issue with how we were structuring our document. I mentioned it once, briefly, and then dropped it. It turns out that my intuition was correct, and I ended up having a lot more back-end work. If I had been more assertive with my opinion, perhaps we could have resolved that problem more quickly.

4. Don’t be afraid to push your (project’s) agenda

Everyone is busy, and has a million things on their plate. If you don’t set deadlines, to-do lists, and homework, projects won’t get done. As a project manager, it is your responsibility to promote your project. I was hesitant to do this early on, and (surprise) nothing got done. Until I started asking more from others, I didn’t move on my project.

5. Don’t be scared to ask for help

I know that deep hole that you dig yourself into when things don’t go correctly. But when you’re already overwhelmed, confused, and delayed, working by yourself isn’t always the most effective use of your time. Reaching out for help from my supervisors was one of the things I did right on this project. Thanks to their knowledge, we were able to work together to get this project back on track.

What about you? What can I learn from your experiences? Share your lessons learned in project management below.

Anisha Singh is a business analyst at GuideStar. She splits her time between the Strategy Team, Finance Team, and Office of the President/CEO. Anisha is a graduate from Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in International Studies and Economics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, finding the best restaurants in DC, and annoying her brother with her philanthropy chatter. You can reach Anisha at

Topics: Just Because