What can go wrong with my project?

The short answer is lots, but you can keep your project on track to reach a rewarding conclusion with the right guidance.

What can go wrong with my project?

The alternative is that the project will cost more than expected, take longer to complete than desired, and not deliver the anticipated value.

In theory, almost anything imaginable can go wrong with a project; however, in reality, the pitfalls fit into six categories, namely:

  • Formulation
  • Commitment
  • Oversight
  • Capability
  • Timeliness
  • Readiness


This covers the What, the Why, and the How. What problem are we trying to solve, why are we attempting to solve it, and how are we aiming to solve it?

The What: If the project sounds exciting but doesn’t deliver water-tight benefits, the project will be questioned. If there isn’t a compelling case for doing the project, then, sooner or later, it will experience challenges from higher priority projects or more urgent business imperatives. This will lead to it being de-prioritized; it will have its funding pulled, have its scope reduced, and ultimately, become a white elephant and a burden to the organization.

IT projects are expensive and time-consuming, so it is always critical to thoroughly investigate the ‘no technology’ option. Look at ways to solve the problem through business process change as well as through technology.

The Why: Is the project discretionary or non-discretionary? Do we have a choice in doing the project or not? Are there legal, regulatory, or compliance obligations to deliver the project? Is the project driven by the organization? If the organization drives the project, what competitive advantage does it deliver? These questions need to be answered to ensure that we really do need to do the project.

The How: Is there a prescriptive approach that must be followed, or is there a choice in how the project is delivered? Will the project employ Agile techniques, or is a traditional Waterfall approach best? Will the project be delivered using in-house personnel, or will the delivery be outsourced to an experienced third party? If a third party is used, will it be the software vendor or an independent entity?

These questions can be answered with the right guidance, and the project can get off to the right start.


Once the decision has been made to proceed with the project, then that’s when the delivery journey begins. Again, this will require concerted and sustained effort and will need the parties involved to be resilient and resourceful.

These qualities need to be displayed first and foremost by the project Sponsor, the Steering Committee, and Project Management. Team morale and enthusiasm for the project will be best maintained if the team can see that their leaders are engaged and committed to the initiative. Conversely, if the team gets the sense that the leadership has become distracted or lost motivation, this will flow down to the team, who will cease delivering optimally.

Aside from the impact on the team, it is also vital that the leadership remain committed as the project will require all of its available capacity. If other demands intrude, their influence and control over the project will diminish, delays will be introduced, things will fall between the cracks, and mistakes will be made.

In smaller organizations especially, where projects are delivered by small teams and by teams whose members have ‘day jobs,’ it is easy to lose track of the status of activities and for momentum to be lost. Therefore, it is critical that focus is maintained and that the delivery continues to be taken seriously. Conviction of the benefits being delivered is the key, and relentless pursuit of the desired outcome is paramount.


As capable as the project team is likely to be, the project team doesn’t have the higher-level perspective of the organization that manages and other senior stakeholders have. For the project to be successful, the organization’s leadership needs to constantly understand what is being done on the project, its status, and challenges. Leadership needs to guide the project to negotiate obstacles.

The leadership also needs to guide the project in other initiatives and events occurring elsewhere in the organization. No organization stays still, and the landscape outside the organization is even less so. Those overseeing the project need to ensure the project is adjusting and correcting its course to see it remains relevant and continues to deliver value for the organization.

The governance team needs to understand their roles and be given support from their management to be effective and do their roles justice.


Project funding is always under pressure, and there is a natural tendency to think that things will be easier than they eventually turn out to be.

One of the casualties of this combination of factors is resourcing. Project team numbers are kept low to reduce cost, and team members are loaded with work, including tasks beyond their skill set. The result is a project team that lacks all of the required capabilities, leading to sub-optimal delivery.

If new and unfamiliar technologies are involved, a lack of knowledge can lead to the project team’s omission of critical skill sets. If a team members must perform tasks beyond their abilities, they might try to do their best and not call out that they are out of their depth. Nobody likes to admit that they aren’t up to the task.

Industry-wide skill shortages due to an abundance of work will lead to a project needing to settle for a team that is not strong in all areas. This will lead to delays while the team comes to terms with their assigned work and will lead to mistakes when challenges are not brought to the attention of the project leadership.

The attempt to cut costs also includes the Project Manager. Either no Project Manager is assigned, or a Project Manager is assigned who is not dedicated to the project and has other demands on their time. It is possible to manage the project without a Project Manager, but real care needs to be taken.

Understanding these pitfalls and accessing skilled advice and guidance can ensure your project isn’t left short in the skills department.


Starting late is a sure-fire way to finish late. The adage, Don’t put off until tomorrow that you can do today, and there is no time like the present is particularly relevant for managing projects.

Project value will be eroded if the end date is missed, so momentum must be maintained. You need to stay ahead to keep up!

Before you start thinking about the timely completion of tasks, you need to understand when the tasks are planned to be completed. This means you need to have a schedule or a plan that outlines who is doing what and by when. Clarity or roles and responsibilities and clear communication to the team about what needs to happen and when are the building blocks of on-time delivery.

It is tempting at the beginning of a long project to take it easy on the basis that there is plenty of time to catch up. It is also easy to justify moving cautiously by saying that all projects need a solid foundation. However, this isn’t a good overriding mindset because once the project gets going, there will be more than enough work to do without needing to attend to tasks that were due to be completed long ago.

Discovering that other team members took their time at the beginning of the project will also breed resentment.

It is hard enough to get the planned work done on time, let alone anything that has crept into the project scope. Tight control of changes is also key to timely delivery. Additions to scope need to be treated with suspicion and approved to be included in the project scope only after a thorough evaluation of the benefits of their inclusion. It is often better to defer these scope additions to a later project phase to maintain momentum and focus.

Close monitoring of project progress is essential if adherence to the schedule is to persist. The introduction of milestones into the schedule allows delays to be discovered early and managed before a key date is missed, which is too late.

Taking extra time and care to plan the project at the outset will make a huge difference in the long run. In addition, engaging an experienced advisor early on will give you the ability to start your project on time and continue to track your schedule.


The soft stuff is the hard stuff, it is said, and it’s true.

In many ways, the implementation of a technical solution is easy. Code is predictable and doesn’t behave in inconsistent ways. It can be complex however is predictable.

The user community in the business, on the other hand, have their own responsibilities and priorities, and your project, as important as it is, might be only one of many things on their plate. Business As Usual challenges can be small or large. If your project end date is a long way off, then they might not start thinking about your project for a very long time, if at all!

This is why it is important to engage the business early, explain what you are doing for them, explain how it will benefit them, and keep them informed of project progress throughout the project life cycle.

Equally important is the need to understand the project’s impact on the business and identify any changes that the project, or you, might need to make to ensure a smooth transition from the current to the future state. This can include business process change, change to the organizational structure, including recruitment and training. Finally, the implementation tasks during a cutover are also critical to the project’s success.

Making sure that you have catered to the needs of the business in your design is vital. If they adopt your solution enthusiastically, they need to be convinced that their future situation will be the same as, or better than, today. The moment the business gets the sense that their lives will be made more difficult due to the project deliverables, understandably, they will be agitated and will react badly.

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What can go wrong with my project?

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