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Don't Let These Project Management Pitfalls Derail Your Project [Tips and Strategies]

Esther van Opijnen
Esther van Opijnen
May 16, 2023

In project management, numerous challenges can halt progress and hinder the achievement of project goals. From inadequate planning and communication breakdowns to scope creep, your path to project success might have some stumbling blocks.

By proactively addressing these pitfalls, project managers can mitigate risks such as budget overruns and missed deadlines, maintain project momentum, and ultimately deliver successful results.

This article will explore some of the most prevalent project management pitfalls that creative businesses encounter and provide actionable strategies to overcome them — it’s only onward and upwards, really!

How to identify project management pitfalls

Regardless of whether you're a novice or a seasoned project manager, it is crucial to recognize the typical challenges that can jeopardize the success of a project.

A PwC study found that only 2.5% of the companies completed 100% of their projects. The rest either failed to meet their targets and budget or missed deadlines. That is a pretty scary statistic. 

There are an almost infinite number of common project management pitfalls. Sometimes those reasons are completely outside of your control as a project manager, but there are steps you can take to minimize the risks.

Identifying project management pitfalls requires a combination of alertness, experience, and proactive observation. Here are some tips to avoid the horror of a failed project and unhappy faces in the team: 

Illustration of methods to avoid project pitfalls

Conduct a project audit

First things first. Before starting a new project, take a second and perform a comprehensive analysis to identify potential risks to the project. Consider factors such as project scope, stakeholder expectations, available resources, and external dependencies such as vendors and freelancers. 

Monitor project metrics

Establish relevant metrics and regularly monitor them to track project progress. Keep an eye on key indicators such as budget utilization, project phases, resource allocation, and team performance. Any deviations or warning signs can indicate a potential issue.

Get stakeholder feedback

Involve key stakeholders early in the project and maintain open lines of communication throughout. A dedicated Slack channel, chat, or other messaging platform can keep the updates in one place. Regularly seek their feedback, concerns, and expectations to identify potential pitfalls.

Learn from post-project interviews

Once a project is completed, conduct a thorough post-project review to identify any pitfalls encountered by your stakeholders and team. Analyze what went wrong and why, and document lessons learned for future projects.

Top 12 project management pitfalls you need to watch out for

By familiarizing yourself with these top 12 project management pitfalls, you can proactively address them and enhance your skills. Let's delve into these common pitfalls and learn how to navigate them effectively

1. Poor project planning

It’s a disaster waiting to happen when your team lacks a project plan or follows an unrealistic timeline.

A PMI study found that 48% of project failures can be attributed to poor planning, leading to increased expenses, lack of trust by stakeholders or internal teams, low-quality deliverables, and delays.

A solid project plan is a comprehensive framework for your project, encompassing its goals, objectives, tasks, resource requirements, budget, and timeline.  

It goes beyond outlining the project's essential elements and also includes the strategies and approaches to achieving those goals. Additionally, the project plan specifies the individuals' responsibilities, ensuring clarity and accountability throughout the project lifecycle. 

Ways to avoid and overcome this

It sounds simple, creating a project plan and sticking to it. However, writing a robust project plan may appear challenging at first, but with the appropriate approach, it becomes a rewarding exercise. Planning plays a crucial role in establishing a clear direction for your team.

Carve out some time to create a solid project plan and request the sign-off by your stakeholders and team members. Involving both parties in these early project stages creates alignment and trust toward the shared objectives. 

Your project plan is a living document that can be reviewed and adjusted as you progress so you can adapt to changes, identify risks, and address obstacles with flexibility and less headache.

Pro tip: Use our guide to create an effective project plan in 7 steps.

2. Poorly defined project goals

On a project level, poorly defined project goals make it difficult to determine the most important tasks and priorities. Team members may work on different objectives, leading to wasted efforts and decreased productivity and morale. 

When project goals are not well-defined, it becomes challenging to determine the required resources. This can lead to inefficiencies, resource wastage, and increased project costs. A report by McKinsey & Company revealed that projects with poorly defined goals often exceed their budget by an average of 45%.

On top of that, long-term goals are essential to the success of your organization. Without any strategic plans, creative businesses could experience difficulties in maintaining competitiveness in the dynamic landscape of today.

Ways to avoid and overcome them

Having a defined project goal will accelerate team performance, and enhance communication while driving profitability for your company. Plus, every project should be part of a bigger, shared company goal — which is why it’s important to integrate OKRs into your project management workflows

Here’s how you do it: 

  • A project goal can be defined as a specific, measurable, and achievable objective that the project aims to accomplish within a defined timeframe. It represents the desired outcome or results that the project team, stakeholders, and sponsors are working towards. A well-defined project goal provides clarity and direction, guiding the project's planning, execution, and evaluation, and serves as a benchmark for measuring the project's success.
  • The overall strategic planning process will help your company’s livelihood and profitability. Don’t rush this process, successful strategic planning requires attention to detail. Think about a way to back up your goals. Data-driven decision-making helps to ensure that strategies are based on facts and evidence, rather than assumptions or guesswork – or even worse, opinions.
  • A way to align project efforts with the bigger picture is by implementing Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). OKR is a goal-setting framework that can help your team forward and reach for the stars. The project goal represents the primary outcome that you aim to achieve. It should be a high-level and ambitious target, challenging to accomplish. Next, it is essential to consider how you will track and measure progress toward those objectives. A significant distinction between objectives and key results is that key results typically involve quantifiable measurements of progress. 

Pro tip: Do you work in marketing? Here’s how to set marketing OKRs in 10 steps

Illustration of someone burnt out sitting at a desk

3. Defective communication 

Project management is a collaborative endeavor that relies on effective team collaboration, with communication at the front and center of it all. Poor communication is a critical factor that can result in confusion, delays, and compromises in the quality of work and tasks involved in the project and, ultimately, the project's profitability.

Ways to avoid and overcome this

Good news: improved communication can increase team productivity by 25%.

Project teams have access to various communication channels, and it is the project manager's responsibility to ensure that everyone is aligned on the methods (e.g. email updates) and timing of essential communication. 

Developing a project communication plan is often beneficial in achieving this goal.

Here are some tips to improve your communication skills as a project manager:

  • Be a good listener: To be effective leaders, project managers need to cultivate active listening skills. Active listening entails attentiveness to both verbal and nonverbal cues from the speaker, enabling a deeper understanding of the message and facilitating appropriate responses.
  • Accept feedback: You play a crucial role in providing feedback to team members and fostering an environment where team members feel encouraged to share feedback among themselves. This practice not only enhances team efficiency but also contributes to improving team accountability.
  • Resolve conflicts fast: Conflict can disrupt smooth communication among project teammates.  Avoid favoritism by acknowledging and respecting the perspectives and opinions of all parties involved in the conflict. Schedule a meeting to delve into the root cause of the conflict. By understanding the underlying factors, you can better address the core issues at hand.

Also read: The 26 Key Project Management Skills for Success

4. Scope creep

It’s scary, but it’s real. Scope creep occurs when a project's requirements expand beyond its initial boundaries during its lifecycle. This expansion can come from increased demand for features or changes in client needs.

As a project manager, you are responsible for defining and managing the project scope. Neglecting this crucial aspect can be a significant pitfall in your project, potentially leading to budget overruns.

Ways to avoid and overcome this

To mitigate the risk of scope creep, it is essential to establish a clear project outline and effectively communicate it to stakeholders. Your scope management plan is a vital element of the project plan and outlines the procedures for defining and controlling the project's scope.

This plan includes a comprehensive breakdown of the work, a scope statement that precisely outlines the project's boundaries, and a defined process for obtaining stakeholder approval on the project's scope baseline. Before finalizing the scope, it is crucial to ensure that all client requests have been thoroughly reviewed and addressed to prevent any unchecked additions or changes.

5. Unrealistic expectations

Picture this: your client requests a design for their new landing page. What they actually want is a new design delivered within two working days instead of receiving a mock-up using their current brand guidelines. Confusing, right? 

Unrealistic expectations can lead to a bad reputation if not solved quickly. If clients don’t receive what they expect, they might bad-mouth you to others. This also goes for internal stakeholders and your team. 

Ways to avoid and overcome this

After you’ve solidified the project scope and the project is underway, move on to the next method to protect your project’s progress.

Project progress reporting plays a crucial role in keeping stakeholders informed about the development of a project. By providing regular updates, project managers enable stakeholders to visualize the progress made and make well-informed decisions while allowing for adjustments in expectations as the project progresses. 

This transparent communication ensures that all involved parties stay informed and can actively contribute to the project's success.

6. Absence of stakeholder engagement

Without engaging stakeholders, you might not fully understand their needs, expectations, and concerns. This can lead to making decisions that do not align with stakeholder requirements, resulting in unhappy faces.

Stakeholders can often share valuable knowledge, expertise, and perspectives that can contribute to better project outcomes. Without their active engagement, these opportunities for input, feedback, and collaboration may be missed, limiting the project's potential for success and innovation.

Ways to avoid and overcome this

  • Assess stakeholder needs and expectations: Conduct a thorough analysis of their needs, expectations, and concerns. This will help you tailor your approach and project activities to align with stakeholder requirements.
  • Develop a stakeholder engagement plan: Create a stakeholder engagement plan that outlines how you will involve and collaborate with stakeholders throughout the project. Define the purpose, objectives, and strategies for engaging each stakeholder group. Consider the most appropriate communication channels, frequency of interactions, and methods for gathering feedback.
  • Invest time and effort in building relationships: Establish and maintain relationships with stakeholders based on trust, respect, and transparency. Foster open communication and active listening and incorporate their feedback into project decision-making.
  • Visualize project progress and share updates: Project visualization helps project managers, team members, and stakeholders alike to keep track of changes and updates. For many, seeing a visual or illustrated outline can be more helpful than a standard email or spreadsheet. 

7. Inefficient resource management

When resources are not properly allocated, scheduled, or coordinated, it can result in bottlenecks, idle time, or insufficient capacity to complete tasks on time. This can disrupt the whole project schedule and compromise its overall success.

Insufficient resources, such as skilled personnel, necessary equipment, or appropriate materials, can also lead to errors and the need for additional corrections and that’s just frustrating.

Ways to avoid and overcome this

Proper capacity planning plays a vital role in addressing resource management challenges. It involves identifying discrepancies between the required project resources and the available resources, and proactively addressing those gaps to prevent any negative impact.

Resource allocation involves the strategic assignment of resources to different project tasks with the aim of optimizing the overall team productivity and achieving the best possible results.

Project resources can be categorized as either tangible or intangible. Tangible resources are physical assets that can be touched or observed, such as machinery, equipment, or materials. On the other hand, intangible resources are more abstract and include factors such as knowledge, skills, expertise, and intellectual property.

Tangible resources play a crucial role in project execution as they provide the physical means to carry out tasks and produce deliverables. Intangible resources encompass the knowledge, skills, and expertise of project team members, stakeholders, or consultants.

8. Poor change management

Poor change management often leads to resistance among project stakeholders or your team. When changes are not effectively communicated, justified, or aligned with needs and expectations, they may resist the proposed changes. The last thing you want is conflicts, delays, and other disruptions to your project activities.

Ways to avoid and overcome this

  • Establish a robust change management process: Define a clear and structured change management process that outlines how changes will be requested, evaluated, approved, and implemented. This process should include clear roles and responsibilities, documentation requirements, and communication protocols.
  • Prioritize changes: Assess and prioritize changes based on their urgency, impact, and alignment with project objectives. Not all changes can or should be accommodated, so it's important to prioritize those that align with the project's goals and provide the most value. 
  • Involve the project team: Seek their input, expertise, and feedback on proposed changes. Engaging the team early on ensures that the team is on board.

9. Ineffective team management

When team management is ineffective, team members may feel undervalued, unsupported, or unengaged. This can lead to low morale and decreased motivation, negatively impacting individual and collective performance. A disengaged team is less likely to go the extra mile.

Ways to avoid and overcome this

To mitigate the negative effects of ineffective team management, it is crucial to prioritize clear communication and collaboration. This includes providing clear roles and responsibilities, fostering open and transparent communication channels, promoting teamwork, offering professional development opportunities, and creating a positive work culture. 

Additionally, implementing best practices, such as team time management, feedback loops, and performance evaluations, can help identify and address team management issues proactively.

10. No contingency plans

Always have a plan B. Or C. In project management, it is inevitable that you will encounter hiccups. But if you don’t know how to properly respond to them, you can completely derail your project. 

Ways to avoid and overcome this

A contingency plan serves as a backup or "plan B" in the event of unexpected and unfavorable circumstances. It provides a roadmap of actions and strategies to be implemented should a worst-case scenario or unforeseen event arise.

Contingency planning for an entire project can feel overwhelming and might be time-consuming. Separate your project into a series of phases, which will allow you to calculate the risks inherent in each phase. 

Your project starts by putting together your project budget. Consider adding a contingency budget while you’re at it. In project management, a contingency budget is a reserve of funds in case of unexpected costs. Think of this as a buffer that allows your teams to stay on track despite any fluctuations in budget allocation.

Also read: A Complete Guide to Project Controls in 2023

11. Insufficient risk management

Risks that are not effectively managed can cause delays in project timelines. Unforeseen issues, such as equipment failures, resource shortages, or external dependencies, can disrupt project activities and lead to missed deadlines. This can impact your relationship with the stakeholder or any contractual obligations.

Ways to avoid and overcome this

Always be prepared for any curveball that project management can throw at you. Implement a robust risk management process. Develop mitigation strategies, and monitor them regularly. This will help you stay proactive in addressing potential pitfalls.

12. Not using the right project management software

Scattered documents, missing project updates, and outdated budgets: not the ideal situation when you are under high pressure to deliver a successful project. Project managers have enough on their plates and a tool should make it easier, not harder. 

The wrong tool can hurt your budget and lead to miscommunications if team members can’t access the right information or when the loading time is slow. 

Ways to avoid and overcome this

Data reveals that project management tools play a critical role in delivering exceptional projects. According to surveys, 44% of respondents reported that utilizing project management software enhanced the quality of their final product. 

Choosing the right project management tool can be quite the search with so many solutions on the market. Evaluate your company's and team’s requirements to make the right call.

Consider the following criteria before deciding on the right project management tool:

  • Usability: Consider the interface of each tool when assessing its user-friendliness. Does it appear crowded with excessive features? Does it provide an intuitive experience? Will it require weeks of training for a new employee, or is it straightforward enough to grasp within a few hours?
  • Pricing: The expenses can accumulate fast, especially for larger teams. Finding a tool that strikes the right balance between functionality and affordability is crucial for optimizing your project management processes without incurring unnecessary expenses.
  • Support and onboarding: You might be surprised to discover that customer support and onboarding assistance doesn’t always come for free. Some project management tools charge extra for priority support.

Manage your projects seamlessly with Rodeo

Fortunately, you don't have to handle planning and stakeholder management on your own. Rodeo offers an all-in-one project management software tool specifically designed to support the success of creative teams. 

With Rodeo's user-friendly platform, teams can efficiently handle budgeting, time tracking, task management, reporting, and much more. 

Here are some of the additional features we have to offer: 

  • Send client-ready,  project estimates straight from the platform 
  • Save time by reusing budget frameworks from previous projects
  • Access real-time budget updates to prevent overspending or scope creep
  • Integrate with QuickBooks (US) and Xero (UK) to help with your bookkeeping needs


Project management software solutions are invaluable tools to discover and mitigate project pitfalls. Rodeo features are simple, and the intuitive interface is easy to navigate regardless of your technical expertise. 

You won’t need to pay for costly third-party integrations to see your projects through to completion since Rodeo is an all-in-one tool.

Ready to get started? Schedule your demo today or sign up for a 14-day free trial.