Tips for avoiding some common project management pitfalls

By Emily Poe


Project management is a topic that many CIOs and CTOs are hesitant to talk about, especially when it comes to project failures.

And because different IT shops approach project management in different ways–for example using waterfall or agile methodologies–it’s often hard to find common ground around the topic.

So we spoke to a few IT leaders in the industry about this tricky subject to find out their tips for avoiding common project management pitfalls and keeping projects on track across the board.

Randy McGraw, SVP of technology and operational services at service provider West IP Communications

An internal project management organization can help you better achieve success: “When I look at it internally, I put a large amount of value on having our own PMO, that we can utilize to guide and develop project plans across the different facets of our business. I think it’s extremely critical for internal success, and change and development.”

Switching project management styles takes time–so don’t expect immediate results: “If you’re a tried and true waterfall type of project management shop and you go in and change to an agile shop, that’s a big change… in principles and also asking a lot of people to partake in that change. Some folks are resistant to it, especially if there’s not an immediate payoff. The immediate impact will actually be less effectiveness, maybe less efficiency … but you have to hold true to the fact that long term, it’s going to pay off.”

Always try to have a project leader to provide feedback and insight:  “You may know the technology and service inside and out–but it is still important to have someone on your side who can actively participate and provide insight and things of nature change management.”

Kevin Riley, CTO of Sonus Networks

Don’t just let deadlines run your project: “Let’s focus on the right solution [first] and then figure out how to get it done in the time frame we have to. Whether we have to [divide it], phase it, or defer some work. Taking that approach of what’s the right end game and making sure you set your project and your approach up to get you there ultimately is most important … Help people from falling into those pitfalls of time-driven decision making. Too often that doesn’t get you where you need to be.”

Approach project management one step at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed: “When you do these projects, they can be very complex [and] you can get caught up in looking at the full body of work and all the details, and it becomes hard to wrap your head around the plan… I’m an engineer so we break things down into manageable sizes or chunks of work, completing them and moving on to the next.”

Stay detail-oriented where you need to be, but also streamlined: “Make sure you minimize details, but also make sure your plans around those [finite number of] details are perfect.”

Bill Scudder, CIO of Sonus Networks

Try to avoid bureaucracy: “I try not to have a lot of bureaucracy around project management because I think that can actually slow things down.”

But provide feedback throughout the process to make sure you can prevent small problems from turning into big ones: “We do start with a process where we have an exec review board for large project.  We call it the IPAC. IT project approval board.  They come and present the problems they’re trying to solve, the resources they need, etc.  If they’re stuck, we also do a traffic-light review… so we have a funnel of large projects that go through that. “

Include the business side when necessary: “On the business process side-we have business program projects, improvements projects and some of those have IT components … there is the executive team [that] literally reviews those on a monthly basis, the status of how we’re doing”

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