Project pitfalls and how to avoid them

The challenging nature of projects

In every sector, projects have become a fact of life – and yet project management processes are often not in place. There is an expectation that projects will deliver business change, improved performance, greater outcomes, without sufficient attention being paid to the skills and approaches that deliver such success. This is unwise, as by their very nature projects are riddled with risks and pitfalls:

  • Their finite nature means that there is immense pressure on delivery at each stage – delays and glitches can impede progress and affect outcomes
  • Cross functional project teams can be difficult to manage due to conflicting agendas and cultures, resulting in communications issues
  • Integrating project work with other strategic imperatives and operational processes is a challenge. Initiatives can compete for attention and the lack of joined up planning can reduce the potential impact of project work

So for projects to succeed, organisations need appropriate project management processes and the skills to deliver them.

It can be very helpful to bring in external project management expertise to support your planning process, as a sound project plan can avoid many pitfalls. Click here to read about the benefits my clients identified: client comments

There is a growing body of knowledge around common project pitfalls and how to avoid them. If organisations are aware of the points below, they can maximise the possibility of project success and avoid common mistakes.

Common project pitfalls

  • Initial scoping out of the project shape is inadequate so that later on the project gets out of control due to scope creep (it just gets bigger and bigger and..!)
  • In the initial planning stage, the final outcomes and benefits are not identified in detail so it isn’t clear what the objectives really are or whether they have been achieved
  • At the start of the project nobody encourages discussion of lessons learnt in other projects and so the same mistakes are repeated again
  • Roles and responsibilities are not defined so things fall down the gap between different people working on the project
  • The project takes a form developed in a different organization and so it doesn’t fit the context and has a limited impact
  • Senior management team doesn’t engage with the project and so doesn’t support it actively. It isn’t prioritized during strategy discussions and loses resource (time and budget)
  • The project management team has little expertise in project management and so is out of its depth in delivering the project
  • The communications strategy isn’t planned adequately so the project doesn’t get staff buy in.
  • Due to poor monitoring and control, the project loses focus about half way through and just tails off….
  • Use of new technologies creates a series of risks and issues that make the project very difficult to control. This causes delays and increased costs and impacts the project’s efficiency

Top tips for project management success

  • Form a working group of relevant people to create the project plan. Think cross functionally to ensure you get appropriate expertise in the group
  • Focus on project outcomes and then plan activities that will lead towards those, not the other way round
  • Tailor the project model to your context by asking the questions “How can this best work here?” and “What needs happen for this to work in our context?”
  • Find people with project experience or qualifications to work on the project team. If you have little of this, secure training/support from outside or read up on project management. With good project management planning, your project will have a much better chance of success
  • Tap into learning in the organisation from previous projects. Find out what worked, the pitfalls and solutions, by talking to relevant people
  • Identify key roles and allocate individuals to them, drafting role descriptions that can be agreed by both sides
  • Be cautious if using new technology and nail down a detailed plan of requirements for the IT team to work with. Schedule regular meetings to supervise the work and build in piloting phases to find glitches. Make sure you test the IT systems in a range of settings with a range of users
  • Get buy in to the plan through presenting it at key communications forums and publicising it online and through other channels. Follow up with face to face meetings or phone calls to key stakeholders, to get people personally engaged with it
  • At the outset decide how and when to monitor progress. Set up tracking systems and define the report outputs. Make sure you have identified who will provide admin support!
  • Use evaluation data, focus groups and meeting forums to gather ongoing feedback on project momentum. Respond to it in planning and mention it explicitly in reports
  • Inform people regularly of what’s happened so far and what’s coming next. Think about how best to inform people as email is a source of much failed communication
  • Keep management teams in the loop through regular short updates and requests for support at a strategic or operational level
  • Make sure you identify appropriate follow on actions and next steps for the second phase of the project or the move into operational management

Even a day of basic training on project principles can help staff grasp fundamental approaches and methods and if you are interested in such training, I hope you will contact me by phoning 07811 378 398 or emailing me

This entry was posted in Consultancy, CPD, FE, Leadership of learning, Learning Leader, Management skills, Project Management, Supported Experiments and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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