Project Management

Avoid These Top 10 Project Management Pitfalls

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by Megan Kachigan

Estimated reading time: 10 minute(s)

Avoid These Top 10 Project Management Pitfalls

Avoid These Top 10 Project Management Pitfalls

High-quality projects require proper planning and strong management support. Project managers and leaders should be well informed on the most common project management pitfalls to avoid so that they can support the development of exceptional outcomes. These topics aren’t often discussed at length due to their sensitive nature and the reflection they can have on the management of the project as a whole, but they are necessary to grow and thrive (both personally and as a team!).

The reality is, it’s easy for a project to become complicated and difficult to navigate, leading to a variety of problems for the team and the project itself. However, this can be avoided with proper planning and skill development. When beginning a new project, it is essential to know which practices are pitfalls to project management and develop a plan and best practices to avoid them.

How To Identify Your Projects Individual Pitfalls

Each project will be susceptible to its own set of pitfalls, which are often tied to the management team of that project. A great place to start identifying the most common struggles of your projects is by measuring the organizational effectiveness of your past assignments.

When you take time to break your previous projects down and assess where the weaker points were, it will provide you with a starting point to redesign how you manage your future projects for success.

There are some project management pitfalls that are experienced more frequently than others so let’s take a look at those to make success easier.

Pitfalls Of Project Management

Here Are The Top 10 Practices That Are Pitfalls Of Project Management

1. Lack Of Communication

When a team struggles to communicate, the project becomes difficult to navigate and complete in a cohesive manner. Communication is the foundation of any team environment and can be the ruling factor for success.

Team communication can take many forms, including how a team is expected to communicate, the level of respect and cooperation throughout collaborative communications, how decisions are to be made within a shared space and project, and how each team member is expected to access information on aspects of the project that are not assigned to them, but have an influence on their specific tasks.

How to avoid this pitfall:

Effective communication is the foundation and the core of team collaboration. When first discussing the project with your team, create a clear expectation for how communication is to look throughout the lifetime of the project.

Define how the team is expected to communicate, such as email chains, weekly meetings, conference calls, within a project management system, or comments on shared documents. Dictate the form these should take so that everyone will know where to look for their communications from their colleagues and what they can expect. Include this in your project outline to ensure your team’s understanding and follow-through.

You will also want to avoid any one person (including management) making any decision single-handedly. This serves two purposes. First, it developed trust between the team and management, as it will show their opinions are valued and their roles are given consideration. Second, it provides a sense of ownership over any decisions being made, further aligning your team with the project. You can avoid singular decisions by implementing a voting system for those that affect the team as a whole or assigning specific teams to decisions that pertain to their individual tasks and expertise.

Poor Organization And Planning

2. Poor Organization And Planning

Organization in the workplace and project planning are essential to the success of your project.

Organization has been heavily linked to productivity rates and the efficiency of the workplace as a whole. If organization is lacking, your team can not only struggle to find the documents and information they need to complete their tasks, but they can also become easily distracted by an environment that has not been optimized for their workflow. This is something that needs to be implemented on an individual level, as well as a collaborative one.

Planning your project is also a determining factor in its success and your team’s ability to navigate the project throughout its lifetime. When a proper plan has not been developed prior to work being completed, tasks will be left incomplete, and overcoming barriers will be more difficult and time-consuming than if an effective work plan had been created prior to the project starting.

How to avoid this pitfall:

When considering the organizational system you’re implementing for your team, (and encouraging them to develop individually), you will need to think of what would create the most efficient environment. Implement a system that will keep all documents organized and easily accessed across all mediums. This is especially important for team meetings and group work sessions. Consider using a shared calendar and link all notes with their corresponding events, so each member will have access to them and easily find the information if they missed the meeting. This is a great way to ensure everyone is aware of any changing expectations and influencing factors to their assigned tasks.

When planning for your project, create a well-rounded outline, and develop action plans for potential barriers that may occur. This will provide your team with a reference point as they complete their assignments, and will also make overcoming obstacles easier and less time-consuming because you’ve already accounted for and planned for them. Also, adopt the habit of creating weekly work plans. This will ensure each week is planned intentionally, and that you’ve aligned it with the goals and deadline of the project, while also increasing the productivity of your team as they have a natural set of smaller goals to achieve each week.

Poorly Defined Goals

3. Poorly Defined Goals

When a project is lacking clear goals, it makes success significantly harder to reach and can leave your team confused about their role and how their tasks fit into the project. Undefined goals leave the project and expectations open to the interpretation of each individual team member, which won’t always align, leaving the project coming together incoherently and needing to adjust the deadline to reframe the project.

When goals are left undefined, the team will face barriers during the planning process, causing additional stress.

How to avoid this pitfall:

During the project kick-off, bring your team together to discuss the expectations of the project and define the end goal together. By doing this, you will provide a starting point to work backward from, and you’ll be able to create a solid foundation for the team to develop their individual task outlines. By developing the goal as a team, you will bring a higher sense of responsibility and shared ownership of the project outcome, and instill a higher level of collaboration between your team members.

Tasks That Are Too Large

4. Tasks That Are Too Large

When individual tasks have not been broken down into smaller expectations, they can become daunting and overwhelming. This not only increases stress but also increases the chances of work being incomplete or poorly developed. It can also create confusion when your team is trying to decide where to start on the project and the importance of their role.

When tasks are broken up into smaller portions, your team will experience more frequent ‘wins’ throughout the project lifetime, which serves as positive reinforcement for all future tasks, and instills confidence in their output.

How to avoid this pitfall:

Encourage each member of your team to break down their objective into more manageable sizes. How many tasks each person’s objective is broken into will be influenced by their individual work style, strengths, and weaknesses. Support them in developing an outline that will allow them to fall into their most productive workflow.

Too Few Milestones

5. Too Few Milestones

When milestones are not incorporated into the work plan, it fosters an environment where small mistakes can snowball and become detrimental to the project because of how long it took the team to recognize them. When you create more frequent milestones, it will allow you to catch any missteps early on and readjust as necessary to ensure the project stays on track. A lack of milestones also causes productivity and motivation to deteriorate; your team is working for long periods of time before realizing any success in the project lifecycle and reflecting on the progress made.

How to avoid this pitfall:

When designing the outline of your project plan, include regularly occurring milestones that have been clearly defined for all members of the team. This will give you a way to measure your team’s success at various points in the project timeline, to check in on their progress and adjust as necessary so that you stay on track to meet the deadline. By having shared milestones, you will also develop a system for your team to check in on each other and compare their individual tasks to ensure they are both maintaining alignments with each other, increasing the quality of your final product.

Teams Designed Without Intention

6. Teams Designed Without Intention

The design of your team, and the skills that are provided by each member, are possibly some of the most essential aspects of project management. If a team is not developed intentionally, with a focus on skill set, the demands of the project can easily become unattainable. Team dynamics have a high level of influence over a project’s success and must be carefully considered when designing your team.

How to avoid this pitfall:

When forming your team, consider the goals of the project and the skills necessary to achieve them. Ensure that each member of your team provides a skill that is not only complimentary of the others in the group but also plays a vital role in the project’s end goals.

It is also important to consider if each member is aligned with the goals of the project. Productivity and quality begin deteriorating when there is a lack of alignment in goals and personal values, making this an essential aspect to consider when developing your team.

7. Uninvolved Leadership

Management sets the standard for the rest of the team. Leaders need to be involved and supportive throughout the entire lifetime of the project. If management isn’t open and supportive, it’s common for the team to become resentful and only put in as much effort as needed to simply get the job finished, without going above and beyond to create a particularly exceptional final product. When leadership is lacking, trust is missing from the team as a whole, which can quickly lead to a toxic work environment, making the involvement of management paramount to the project’s success and team morale.

How to avoid this pitfall:

It is important that management is directly involved in each aspect of the project, and is supporting each member. You can do this by assigning each day of your week to specific areas of the team, or creating an open line of communication for teams to request your assistance on any given day. This will not only allow you to support your staff, but it also shows them that you are available to them and that you value the work they are contributing to the project.

Another important aspect to incorporate into your management practice is to empower your team by recognizing their hard work and the successes they are bringing to the project. This can come in the form of rewards, public acknowledgement, or verbal praise as milestones are hit or important developments are made.

8. Unclear Jobs Roles And Responsibilities

When roles are not clearly defined, it inadvertently creates more work for everyone which lowers rates of efficiency. Your team may begin experiencing higher rates of dysfunction, stress, and conflicts with other team members as tasks overlap due to lack of defined expectations.

By not having clearly defined roles and responsibilities, expectations are determined based on each individual interpretation of the scope of the project and the skill sets each member believes they were brought onto the team for. This leaves your project open to failure as assignments go incompleted or are formed outside of the scope of the project.

How to avoid this pitfall:

During the project kickoff, create a document that outlines each person’s roles and expectations explicitly. Allow each person to have some input on the extent of their role, and verify each member’s understanding of their expectations. Following the completion of this document, send a copy of it to every member of the team, and if expectations change throughout the lifetime of the project, address it on this document and share the new version with the team again. This will ensure each member is fully aligned with their role and has an up-to-date understanding of what their expectations are, how they relate to the team, and how they lend themselves to the project’s end goal. It provides accountability and gives team members more reason to follow through with their responsibilities.

Continuous Changes To The Project Scope

9. Continuous Changes To The Project Scope

Changes to the scope of the project will continually change the final end goal of the project and can create fluctuations in the project cost, deadline, and expectations—often leaving the project behind schedule and coming together inconsistently.

“Scope creep” is when more tasks are added on to the project than initially agreed upon. This can affect not only employee morale by having to take on extra work, but also may increase budget needed and result in project delays.

How to avoid this pitfall:

Project managers must take requested changes, and review them individually, considering how they will affect the project as a whole. Consider questions like:

  • “Will it move the timeline of the project?”
  • “Will it change the work that’s already been done?”
  • “Will it risk the project going over budget?”
  • “Will it leave the project unfinished when the deadline comes?”
  • “Will it create additional stress on my team, leaving them struggling to complete the project to the initially agreed-upon standards?”

These are all questions that should be thoroughly explored prior to accepting a request for any changes in the project after work has begun.

Deadlines

10. Unrealistic Deadlines

When you impose unrealistic deadlines on your team, you’re creating an environment that leaves your team stressed and under additional pressure. This will reduce the quality of work, as they will be rushing to complete tasks, and forgo the standards they usually hold themselves accountable to.

Unrealistic deadlines also risk your team facing burnout, leaving projects behind schedule or incomplete. When a team is struggling to complete a project due to the strict demands and the short timeline, trust in management begins to diminish, often fostering resentment towards those who are setting and agreeing upon the project deadline; you, the managers. Ultimately, deadlines that are unrealistic will reduce employee morale entirely.

How to avoid this pitfall:

The best way to avoid this pitfall is by implementing a project kickoff prior to work being started and a completion date is set. This will allow you to take all the necessary information, such as the scope of the project, the costs, task breakdowns, necessary resources, and team design, into account before deciding on the deadline, ultimately creating team involvement.

Conclusion

Project management pitfalls can take many forms and can have detrimental effects on your project’s outcome. By being aware of them, and implementing new strategies to combat them, you will not only grow your expertise as a manager but will also create a work environment where your team can thrive and your projects can find success every time.

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