7 top project pitfalls to avoid – a survival guide

Project pitfalls

Coffee and equipment are not solely responsible for the success of a project

With a few years of professional experience under your belt, you might be tempted to think you were aware of most pitfalls and stumbling blocks, but reality tells a different story. For the simple reason that despite that there is no dearth of surprises that could unexpectedly crop up during the course of projects. Regardless of whether it is about a kick-off meeting in South Africa, where no customers show up, or the startling news that a deadline could in principle be moved up – without prior intimation. There is practically nothing that cannot happen. 

Based on our experience with hundreds of projects, we have compiled a list of some typical pitfalls that will help you recognize and mitigate such surprises. Perhaps you are aware of some other snafus that you may have experienced yourself! Write to us or comment our post at the end of this article and help us to expand our list!


“We have abundant time at our disposal”

One of the classic project pitfalls. It is possible to live with a clear conscience in the belief that the time at hand is adequate. At least, until there is no time left and owing to the unanticipated project dynamics, suddenly all hell breaks loose. For the simple reason that most project delays occur at the very start and result from misunderstandings. Or by virtue of the fact that one participant has underestimated the complexity and the dependencies involved in the project.

Our Advice: Do not waste any time! A solid and comprehensible project plan forms the foundation of any project.


“We have to keep a record of the time taken and the progress of the project? That is way too time-consuming!”

Just imagine you decided to go on a road trip in your car. Just a normal situation, right? Not quite if you’ve covered your dash panel with adhesive tape. From then on it gets tricky, because you can’t tell how much gas you still have in your tank and how fast you’re driving at any given moment. Not to mention the fact that the different indicator lights are no longer visible to you. Applied to the practice of project management, this would mean flying blindly. And with drastic consequences.

Our Advice: Compared to the actual failure of the project and the expenses incurred for problems, the effort involved in documenting the process can be controlled and is limited. Ensure that your system for tracking your progress is efficient.


“At the end of the day everything will be fine.”

Unfortunately, this misconception exists much too often. If there is failure to understand on the most basic level what the aims and methods of the entire project are, it will automatically fall prey to the rather egocentric perspective of each of those involved. Unanticipated consequences will, for instance, lead to your own performance being assessed with respect to the overall budget, while losing sight of the total expenses. Or decisions will be made which will benefit the decision maker but not necessarily everyone else.

Our Advice: Clearly define your measurable goals and sub-goals. That will enhance your motivation and create greater clarity with respect to the overall goals.


“If I remember correctly…”

The treasure trove of experience that employees bring to the project is one the most important assets of any company. It is all the more important, however, to precisely assess and know the value of this asset. That involves knowing exactly when these experiences are no longer reliable. In particular, when it comes to one’s own interests, it pays to support this type of information by way of an objective system data in order to link the diverse departments and processes. This is akin to how a physician not only inquires about the wellbeing of the patients, but also undertakes independent investigations. In particular, complex IT systems in the ERP environs tend to hoard an incredible abundance of data – for those who understand it and can interpret it.

Our Advice: Undertake precise research. Ensure you have facts. If this turns out to be too onerous, seek appropriate modes of analysis.


“I think I might have already heard that in this context.”

Who doesn’t know that? These seemingly helpful statements that at the end of the day are set in hypothetical framework of could have, should have, would have. That suddenly diminishes the value of even the most reliable information. But take courage. Mistakes happen everywhere, however, without the willingness to make mistakes, nothing happens. Literally. There is evidence that by directly stating a hypothesis this problem often stands to be remedied quite rapidly.

Our Advice: Encourage your employees not to use the subjunctive or hypothetical framework. That expresses insecurity.


“We don’t have to test that, we haven’t changed anything there.”

Testing costs time and money, no question. But considering the potential damages this might result in critical processes – if untested software is used – , this is absolutely necessary. At the same time, it must be noted that tests are not just tests. In contrast to the technically iterable regression tests, it is important to check the semantic tests not just for their functionality but also with respect to their content. The underlying conditions must ideally correspond to those that prevail in reality.

Our Advice: For efficient tests, you need clear goals, plans and even resources. Ideally integrated with existing IT services, such as process documentation, change management and incidents. Categorize the test contents according to reproducible regression tests and tests that need to be checked for content, which necessitate the feedback of the departments.


„What procedural? This is just about booking the sales and securing a sales receipt!”

Without a common ground for communication, it is difficult to organize a project team. Thereby access to the key information must be controlled so as to ensure that the information is regularly updated and enhances the capacity of the project participants to take actions. All discussions about accountability, document versions and deviations in the project planning are dangerous factors that will definitely delay any project.

Our Advice: Bring the authorized representatives from IT and the business units to the table. Create a documentation which both sides understand as the basis for the IT / Business Alignment for coordinating common requirements and strategies.


This is the correct way – summary

This small selection of some typical project problems and snafus can of course not be treated as a comprehensive checklist. But it clearly shows how important it is to take the right approach in complex IT projects. Particularly when the framework conditions only offer limited leeway for time and budgets and the involved staff are not exclusively available for this task.


Find more post on this topic here.

Leave a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five × 4 =