7 Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Managing Projects

Those of us who have been in the project management field for a long time know the many challenges and risks – both expected and unexpected - that can surface on projects. Combine that with the challenges of managing remote teams, different personalities, different agendas, conflicting priorities, booked schedules, unclear scope, and a stressed environment, and you have a road filled with many obstacles to overcome before you even start.  

In this article I’d like to start by summarizing seven common pitfalls that I have experienced and observed in many of the client environments in which I have worked – in hopes to help others proactively mitigate and even avoid them. 

1. Resources not available before kickoff 

Most organizations today work in a matrix environment with resources being allocated across projects in a just-in-time staffing model. Such a model creates a challenge for a project manager, when the resources assigned to his or her team have other priorities and responsibilities.  This is especially challenging before kickoff, when the project manager has to assemble the team and do some preliminary planning and information gathering for the Project Charter and for the kickoff presentation.  

If the resources are not available and that preliminary planning is not done, it can be an obstacle at kickoff and can put the project at risk before it even starts. 

To avoid this pitfall, you have to be persistent and resourceful in identifying and engaging the resources and resource managers as early as possible. Get on their calendar, find out who else you need to engage, get their commitment for when they can be available to review the scope and provide feedback on the schedule. It is critical to get everyone's buy in, feedback and commitment on what is included into the Project Charter because they will have to own the deliverables and the due dates. Make sure every deliverable has a project team member identified. Get agreement from them on the project kickoff date and identify who needs to be present at the kickoff. Continue to follow up to get all resources and stakeholders identified and on-boarded in time.

2. Budget not in place

If the budget and the estimate is not well defined early, the project manager will have difficulty both identifying resource needs and defining tasks.  Initial budget commitment must come from senior management and a process for estimating and committing the budget must be clear through the different project gates.

To mitigate this risk, ensure you have a clear estimate and budget that is signed off by the sponsor. Manage your budget tightly from the start and get the forecast of hours by resource by week from your impacted groups.  Then align it with the schedule and the deliverables that the resources are responsible for and check for any gaps.  As always in project management, you goal is to identify any gaps or risks earlier rather than later.

3. Business sponsor / customer  availability

The customer is typically the business sponsoring organization.  Just as with other project resources, the business / customer team members have their regular responsibilities in addition to being assigned to overseeing the project you are leading for them.  That work can get in the way of their availability.  This can impede timely decision-making and information acquisition and dissemination. 

The project manager can overcome this pitfall by discussing this with the customer - namely the customer sponsor or project lead - to let them know what is needed from them in order to keep the project on schedule. The goal is to create a partnering spirit and to ensure the business team participates and provides what is needed to keep the project on track.

4. Overloaded resources

When your own project team is overloaded with work on other projects and possibly from their own resource managers in a matrix organization, that can make it extremely difficult to keep team members engaged and making forward progress on assigned tasks.  Obviously this makes project success difficult to attain as deadlines start to pass and key milestones are missed due to resource availability. 

If you see that your resources are overloaded, you need to address it early on. First attempt to discuss the issue of availability with the team member and find out how they want to address it so it does not impact the project schedule or the quality of the project deliverables. This needs to be managed very closely and you and the team member can agree at what point it is necessary to escalate so they can get help and your project is not at risk as a result.  

5. Insufficiently defined requirements

We know that poor requirements are one of the top reasons why projects fail. Good detailed requirements are critical to project success.  Without detailed requirements, project success is at risk.  Many customers come into project engagements thinking they’ve already documented thorough requirements, but as we know, the requirements definition phase requires a number of different people from different groups in order for it to be thorough and complete.  

To mitigate this risk, be sure not to not short cut this phase.  It will always come back and haunt you later in the project. Even if the customers have defined the requirements, it is imperative that there are business analysts who still need sufficient time for the requirements gathering sessions, reviews and approvals.   Be thorough and take time to ensure the requirements are properly documented, reviewed and approved by the right stakeholders.   These roles and responsibilities need to all be defined during the initiation phase when you are putting together the charter.

6. Lack of agreement on customer expectations

Typically before a project is initiated, there is a statement of work or a project request with an initial budget that was documented as part the business case approval process. It is the project manager's job to review and find out early what the customers expectations are as a result of that initial documentation.

The first thing the project manager needs to do is to create a Project Charter that captures those expectations and to look for any gaps or miscommunications so that any misaligned expectations are set properly right from the start. If you do not do this very early, you will pay later and your project can end up with risks, scope issues, budget overruns, quality issues and an unsatisfied customer. 

7. Failure to proactively plan for risks

Many project issues occur because risks were not identified early enough.

To avoid this pitfall, you need to meet early as a team and take the time to identify the assumptions, constraints, risks, issues and dependencies for the project. Clearly document what the risks and how you plan to mitigate each one.  Engage early in these discussions and keep ensuring that risks are always discussed throught the project.  Stay proactive in managing any mitigation plans before the risks cause any slippage to the project schedule, turn into a budget overrun or end up with quality issues.



These are just seven common pitfalls that can commonly occure on projects.  The list can have many more.  However, in future articles I will discuss  these in greater detail and provide additional strategies for avoiding these pitfalls. 

What pitfalls are common in your area of project management?  What problems seem to be lurking out there waiting to throw your projects off track as you’re just getting underway?  Let’s discuss…


rania-kortRania Kort is an Independent Management Consultant and Business Advisor with more than 20 years’ experience helping Fortune 100 companies successfully implement strategic initiatives. Rania has managed large-scale programs and programs, established and run PMO's and implemented process improvement in many different industries. She ran and grew an IT Management Practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers for more than seven years managing over 300 consultants.  Currently, she serves as an independent consultant focusing on achieving results through collaboration and a team leadership approach that ensures alignment, accountability and trust to develop high-performance teams.

If you would like to contact me, I can be reached either through my contact page or through LinkedIn.