Top 15 ways to derail a project--and how to avoid these project management pitfalls
I've seen many projects encounter troubles due to the lack of a well-defined project scope. Despite the best planning efforts, change is inevitable, so having a clear statement of work up front is essential in getting agreement with the customer on what will actually be accomplished. A poorly constructed statement of work (or absence of one) will lead to ambiguities that are hard to resolve and you will never truly know when the project is finished.
Not setting expectations up front. One of the key ways to screw up a project is to not create a road-map and define project requirements and expectations for all stakeholders at the beginning of the project.
That's why "before we start any projects, I make sure that everyone on both the customer team and project team have a clear, documented understanding of two primary things: What we are going to do, and how we know when we are done. Without documented agreement on the answers to these two questions, the project is in danger from the start.
Not securing management buy-in
Executing a project without securing sponsor support is not only counter-productive but also a recipe for disaster. It's imperative to be on the same page with the sponsor for a project to move in the desired direction and get organizational buy-in.
Using the same methodology for all size projects
Most project management methodologies have a standard set of key tasks and deliverable's for enterprise IT projects. Most methodologies are designed around projects of a certain size (i.e., $1 million plus). If you have a project that is $100,000 and you try to use the standard approach, you may find that it costs more to do the deliverable's than it does to do the actual project.
Overloading team members
Your team members are not machines, pay attention to how much work each individual member is assigned. If one member is overloaded, the end product will suffer. Utilize the strengths of your team and spread out the workload as much as possible. This will avoid overwhelming your team.
Waiting or not wanting to share information
In Software Development, waterfall approaches to project delivery--where results are not presented to users and stakeholders until late in the project--introduce risk and often lead to disappointing. That's because "users often don't know what they want until they can actually see, touch and work with it. That's why using an agile, iterative approach to project management is better. Iterative projects delivers results in short, quick phases, with the most critical and complex components delivered first.
Not having a clearly defined decision-making process
While user involvement and feedback are critical, successful projects also need a clear and defined decision-making process. Project teams should embrace change, but change decisions need authoritative approval agreement and documentation. Understanding the process and chain of command keeps everyone reading from the same playbook.
Allowing scope creep (or excessive scope creep)
Loosely defined and unclear project scope, halfway surprises and frequent change requests can lead to increased timelines, increased cost, escalations, a demotivated team and, most importantly, an unsatisfied customer.To combat scope creep, "ensure project objectives are understood, deliverable's are defined and the project is monitored daily. That said, change requests are a fact of life in projects. So it is a good idea to budget for scope creep and have a defined process for accommodating change requests.
Being afraid to say "no."
Part of being a good project manager is being "an educated advisor". This means knowing when to say 'no' to a request, whether because it's not in the best interest of the company, the project, the end-users or the customers. Knowing how to say no and offering a constructive alternative solution can prevent a project from becoming derailed or delayed.
Not being a team player
Every project has a team that is expected to work together to successfully complete the work. The project manager is the hub of the team, the process and the solution. Yet many young or new project managers make decisions without consulting with the team and without gaining approval. Without that communication and approvals, the project is headed for disaster. The project manager cannot manage a project schedule, budget or scope without the team.
A related danger is that "the project becomes 'our project' rather than a 'company project. Instead of focusing on achieving the goal or getting it right, [team members or whole teams] then spend time looking for others to blame, defending their own position or refusing to co-operate with other teams.
It's like a non-performing sports team where the defense blames the offense; the offense then blames the defense; and the coach berates the referee. They've temporarily forgotten about winning.
One of the primary responsibilities of the project manager is to communicate. Communication keeps everyone on the team up to date with the current status, next steps and any issues. However, too many times projects managers feel they are too busy managing day-to-day tasks to take the time to communicate. This is a critical mistake and often the demise of a project. If the PM does not send out the meeting minutes, status reports and follow-up emails, he/she is increasing the risk for delays, risk for conflict and project failure.
Too many, too long status meetings
Nothing sucks the life out of a team more than a status meeting. Sure, there's some important information in there, but all too often the same information could have easily been shared through a collaborative system. Reserve team meetings for decision-making; for instance, Agile teams have daily 'stand-ups' which are useful in quickly identifying and removing obstacles.
Not caring about quality--the "good enough" syndrome
Due to different factors, such as schedule or budget pressure, it might be tempting to reduce the effort on quality assurance (QA), however, a lack of proper QA will result in a weak end product. If the quality standards drop, the project will experience negative consequences such as re-work, liability and reduced margins. The project management team needs to understand that the cost of preventing errors is lower than the cost of fixing them.
Not learning from past project management mistakes
In every completed project plan there is a wealth of intelligence that rarely gets mined. Why did our project ship date slip by a month? How comprehensive were our initial specifications? How accurate was our team at estimating their tasks? A key benefit of using a project management tool is the ability to access the data that can provide answers to these questions. If a team is committed to self-improvement, they'll reap significant rewards by spending a few hours conducting post-project analysis.