As a project manager, it's your job to steer your team through the treacherous waters of each assignment — and avoid disaster.
But even the most experienced project managers can fall victim to risks that sink their projects.
To ensure that doesn't happen, here are seven of the most common risks of project management and how to avoid them.
Stay aware of these dangers to safely guide your projects to completion.
But before we get into the seven project management risks, let's first look at what risk in project management means.
What is risk in project management?
Risk is anything that could potentially cause your project to fail.
They might be external or internal.
External risks, like natural disasters or political instability, are out of your control. Internal risks are under your control, like unrealistic deadlines or unclear objectives.
Both types of risks can seriously impact your project, so it's essential to be aware of them and have a plan in case they arise.
Identifying risks early on is crucial in managing them effectively. Once identified, assess and prioritize them based on:
- The chances of it happening.
- Its potential impact on your project.
What are the common risks of project management?
Many variables can threaten project success, but some are more common than others. Here are the seven most common risks in project management.
1. Scope creep
Like any good horror movie, scope creep is the silent killer of otherwise well-planned projects.
It often starts with a simple change in objectives or adding a new stakeholder. Before long, the project's scope has expanded far beyond the initial agreement.
This can easily and quickly spiral out of control, causing your project to balloon in size and making it impossible to complete on time and within budget.
Scope creep is a real risk in any project. You must know the signs to nip it in the bud before the work gets out of hand.
How to avoid scope creep
As you can imagine, scope creep can be costly and cause significant delays. If possible, avoid it at all costs.
Here are a few steps you can take to avoid scope creep:
- Have a clear and concise (written) project plan that everyone involved understands and agrees on. You'll prevent misunderstandings and revisionist history later on.
- All relevant parties should carefully review and approve change requests to ensure that any changes align with overall objectives and are truly necessary.
- Be realistic about your team's expectations within the given timeframe and budget. Trying to do so much within a limited time or funds is one of the leading causes of scope creep.
If you focus on accomplishing realistic goals, you're less likely to run into problems with scope creep.
2. Lack of communication
Project management is a tricky business. Not only do you have to juggle a million different balls in the air — you also have to keep everyone on the same page.
And if you don't, the whole thing can quickly come crashing down. Lack of communication is one of the biggest risks of project management. It can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication among team members, causing mistakes.
It can also cause frustration and conflict among team members who feel like they're not in the loop.
Lack of communication is a serious risk that can quickly derail your project if you don't address it.
So if you're working on a project, keep the lines of communication open and clear.
How to avoid a lack of communication
There are a few key measures you can take to avoid this problem:
- Ensure everyone involved in the project understands and can reference the objectives and goals.
- Have regular meetings and updates in person and through email or other communication channels for updates.
- Encourage open communication among team members to prevent misunderstandings and allow people to voice any concerns.
If you prioritize communication, you can avoid the many risks that fall on disconnected teams.
3. Unrealistic deadlines
Setting unrealistic deadlines is one of the most common risks of project management. It can happen for several reasons: maybe you wanted to get things done as quickly as possible or simply underestimated how much work you'd have to do.
Whatever the reason, unrealistic deadlines are a recipe for disaster. They can lead to rushed and sloppy work, missed due dates and frustrated team members.
If you're working on a project, make sure you're realistic about the timeline. It's always better to manage expectations than miss them entirely.
How to avoid unrealistic deadlines
There are a few tips to help avoid unrealistic deadlines:
- Make sure you have a realistic understanding of the project's scope and the amount of time it will take to complete. Ask your team for input.
- Don't be afraid to adjust the timeline if necessary. If you're falling behind, it's better to change the timeframe than to force things and end up with subpar work.
- Communicate regularly with your team members and stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page.
4. Inadequate resources
Imagine you're in the middle of a project. You're making good progress, and things are going well. But then, suddenly, you realize that you don't have the materials you need to finish the project.
This can lead to all sorts of project management issues.
For one thing, it can cause delays. You might also end up with subpar work because you didn't have the right tools.
Even worse, it can cause conflict among team members. People will get frustrated and blame each other for the lack of resources.
So if you're working on a project, make sure you have what you need from the start.
How to avoid inadequate resources
Use these tips to ensure you have adequate resources for your project:
- Make sure you have a clear understanding of the project requirements.
- Know what resources you need and ensure they're on hand before starting the project.
- Have a contingency plan if something goes wrong and you need to find more resources.
An inadequate resource is one of those risks that can really sneak up on you if you're not careful. But if you take the time to plan, you can avoid it.
5. Unclear roles and responsibilities
There are many moving parts in project management, and everyone must know their role. Otherwise, it's like having too many cooks in the kitchen — everything gets messy, and nothing gets done.
Unclear roles and responsibilities can lead to many problems. You might end up with duplicate, missing or incorrect work. Projects can get delayed or even derailed, and teammates might majorly conflict.
In short, it's a recipe for disaster.
So if you're a project manager, make sure you take the time to define roles and responsibilities from the outset clearly. It'll save you headaches throughout your project lifecycle.
How to avoid unclear roles and responsibilities
- Define and assign roles and responsibilities early on in the project.
- Make sure that everyone understands their role and expectations.
- Communicate regularly with all team members to ensure everyone is on the same page.
- Clearly document job processes. Take advantage of tools like Scribe to auto-generate step-by-step guides that outline even the most complex work.
6. Team conflict
Conflict is a natural part of any team dynamic. But it can quickly spiral out of control if it's not managed correctly.
When team conflict goes unchecked, it can lead to missed deadlines, frustrated team members and even project failure. So if you're a project manager, you must know how to deal with conflict.
Of course, there are risks involved in managing conflict. But the threats of doing nothing are far worse. So next time you face an internal struggle, don't run away from it. Use it as an opportunity to build a stronger, more cohesive team.
How to avoid team conflict
- Seek out risks in your project management process and address them head-on.
- Identify potential gaps and use automation or assign tasks to streamline work.
- Encourage open communication among team members.
- Be aware of the different conflict resolution styles and learn how to use them effectively.
- Mediate conflicts as soon as they arise. Don't let them fester.
Following these tips, you'll be able to manage conflict effectively and keep your project on track.
7. Misuse of tools and technology
Technology is a crucial part of any project. But if not used properly, it can do more harm than good.
For example, let's say you use project management software to track tasks and deadlines. But you don't know how to use the software, so you accidentally create more work for yourself. Or maybe you're using a new tool incompatible with the rest of your project leading to risks in your project management.
Take the time to learn how to use the tools and technologies you're working with. Then document how it's done to train your team.
How to avoid misuse of tools and technology
- Make sure you understand how the tools and technologies work before using them.
- Read the documentation and tutorials. If there aren't any, use Scribe to auto-generate step-by-step instructions. Scribe works while you work to create visual guides, complete with text and screenshots.
- Ask for help from the technology provider to clearly understand how it works.
- Don't be afraid to experiment.
Following these tips can avoid costly mistakes with your project's tools and technologies.
How to identify potential risks in project management cycles
As a project manager, you need to identify these risks early in the project lifecycle. That way, you can take steps to mitigate or avoid them altogether.
The key to excellent risk management is identifying potential risks early in the project cycle and implementing mitigation plans. Here's how:
Step #1. Make a list of risks.
Brainstorm the risks that could potentially impact your project. These might include risks related to the technology, team, budget, etc.
Step #2: Categorize the risks.
Once you have a list of risks, categorize them to make it easier to track and manage them later on.
For example, you can create separate categories for technical, financial and scheduling risks.
Step #3: Assign a probability to each risk.
After you have categorized the risks, it's time to start evaluating if they'll likely happen.
For each risk, ask yourself:
- Is this something we commonly deal with?
- Do other teams see this type of problem with this type of project?
- Have I personally dealt with this before? How many times?
Give it a score from 1-10, with one being the least likely to happen and ten being the most.
Step #4: Create a mitigation plan for each risk.
Now that you understand the risks involved — start thinking about how to mitigate them.
For each risk, come up with a prevention and response plan. What will you do to stop this from happening, and how will you handle things if it does happen?
This might involve having a backup plan for the technology, increasing the budget or adding more time to the project schedule.
Step #5: Implement the mitigation plans.
Once you've created mitigation plans for each risk, it's time to implement them. The step involves:
- Training your team on the backup plan.
- Setting aside additional funds in the budget.
- Building buffer time into the project schedule.
Identifying potential risks in a project lifecycle can increase your chances of successfully managing risks in your next project.
Final thoughts on project management risks
While it's impossible to avoid risk altogether, understanding the most common means you can create preventive measures to minimize disaster potential — and lift that sinking ship.
With a well-organized plan and clear communication, you can reduce the chances of scope creep, missed deadlines and other mishaps.
So before beginning your next project, think of how you'll avoid and manage these seven project management risks. And don't forget to take advantage of tools like Scribe to reduce the likelihood of risk and streamline each project.
Have you encountered any of these risks of project management? What strategies do you use to overcome them? We want to hear from you!