No Image Available

Seb Anthony

Read more from Seb Anthony

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

The challenging nature of projects


Written by Joanne Miles, Managing Consultant, LSN

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.

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. Even a day of basic training on project principles can help staff grasp fundamental approaches and methods.  Find out more about our introduction to project management workshop here.

It can also be very helpful to bring in external project management expertise to support your planning process, as a sound project plan can avoid many pitfalls.  Here are some quotes from clients of mine who have noted the benefits:

In the project planning session all our questions were answered and we are now in a position to proceed with our project confidently (Tony Rex, Director, Wakefield College)

The project management support has been excellent. It has helped me to develop (Kathy Mulvey, Head of Teaching and Learning Development, South Essex College)

It has been a pleasure working with Joanne as she has provided a great deal of value to our project. Thank you (Lt Col John Gale, Innovation Cell, Defence College of Communications and Information Systems)

Positive and useful input from Joanne with good ideas generated through trainer’s experience of good practice in projects (Tahmina Maula, Head of Training and Development, Westminster Kingsway College)

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. There’s little useful activity or outcome
  • 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 to. 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 SMT 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

What do you think?
I’m very interested to hear from others with their views on project management; please get in touch and I will be pleased to discuss:
Tel: 020 7492 5391

Joanne Miles, August 2011


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!