Understanding and Overcoming Limits of Project Methods

A graphic with project management in a square in the center, with the words "Plan, Do, Act, Check" connected by arrows in a circle.


A project management method is a set of principles, tools and techniques that are used to plan, execute, and manage projects. Project management methods help PMs lead team members and manage teamwork while facilitating team collaboration. While project methods (e.g., Waterfall, Agile, Scrum, and Six Sigma) offer numerous advantages, they also have potential shortcomings. It’s important to understand at an extremely elevated level the limits of methods so you don’t fall into “analysis paralysis” at some point within a project.

Common Pitfalls in Utilizing Project Methods

  • Working at too abstract and elevated of a level to be translated into workable processes.
  • Ignoring current industry standards and best practices.
  • Using nonstandard project conventions and terminology.
  • Not having appropriate performance metrics.
  • Not meeting crucial areas such as quality, risk, and communications.
  • Facing business constraints such as commitments to partners, customers, or regulators.
  • Managing infrastructure constraints such as capacity limitations, speed, or functionality.
  • Relying too heavily on technology which may require training to use it properly.
  • Leading teams in hybrid work environments which often includes different time zones.
  • Overextending reliance on functional managers and their resources.
  • Dealing with the consequences of external vendors not delivering on time.
  • Taking too long to execute because of bureaucracy and administration.
  • Overlapping authority and responsibility between top management and project management, which adds a layer of complexity.
  • Working with an inadequate project scope that does not call out items excluded from coverage.
  • Facing challenges of your project being of low priority to the client.

Keep in mind while working on a project there can be changes in organizational priorities and ongoing advances in technology (e.g., impact of AI) while methods are changing for developing new products. This may contribute to the volatility of the project’s goals and operating constraints. Everything can be made obsolete in an instant and it’s hard to pivot late in the process. When executing a project, one should learn how to manage uncertainty gracefully and benefit from it.

In recent years, most organizations have moved away from a single standard method to multiple methods like Waterfall and Agile. This has happened because the nature and variety of projects have dictated different approaches within the same overall agenda. Every year, we are expected to become more efficient and more effective, and that requires a highly flexible approach within an evolving agenda. Added inflexibility will be just as certain to fail as the absence of any constant approach.


An effective project development method is not just about focusing on life cycles, but about shortening a company’s strategic goal delivery life cycles. No matter how efficient a company is, it needs to adapt constantly to maintain a successful market share. In today’s format, we see the current project strategies as representing a project management compromise in trading off risk for time. With any project, there are limitations and risks that need to be addressed. Proper planning supports successful delivery, but it is also necessary to move forward. Knowing how and when to do this is an art form for project managers.

Your thoughts in the comment section below are welcomed.

Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication. From 2011 - 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.
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  1. Mr. Ronald B. Smith’s insightful exposition on the multifaceted nature of project management methodologies presents a comprehensive panorama of the inherent challenges and the dynamic interplay of factors influencing project success. His astute observations underscore the imperative for adaptive strategies to navigate the evolving landscape of project management. In concurrence with Mr. Smith’s perspective, I’d like to elaborate further on the synthesis of traditional and contemporary approaches to fortify project management paradigms.

    The complexities delineated by Mr. Smith, from the potential pitfalls of project methodologies to the repercussions of external dependencies, indeed require an elevated approach—one that transcends conventional methodologies. As we pivot from traditional Waterfall to more fluid frameworks like Agile and Scrum, the crux of project management evolves from mere execution to strategic orchestration. The quintessence of this evolution is not merely adapting to change but architecting an environment where change catalyzes innovation and drives value creation.

    As Mr. Smith astutely points out, the intersection of project management and business agility is a fertile ground for innovation. In this domain, embracing the transformative potential of technologies, particularly AI, becomes imperative. AI serves as a dual-edged sword, offering sophisticated tools for predictive analytics and risk management while simultaneously introducing new dimensions of complexity and uncertainty. The true artistry of project management in this context lies in harnessing AI as a strategic ally that augments human insight with data-driven foresight.

    Moreover, the confluence of diverse project methodologies within an organization’s fabric necessitates a culture of continuous learning and adaptation. This cultural paradigm nurtures resilience and fosters a proactive stance towards emerging trends and disruptions. The ability to anticipate and mitigate risks while capitalizing on serendipitous opportunities transforms project management from a structured discipline into a dynamic ecosystem of innovation.

    In conclusion, as unraveled by Mr. Smith, the intricate tapestry of project management beckons a strategic realignment. It’s about orchestrating a symphony of methodologies, technologies, and human talents to craft a narrative of success. As we venture into this realm of infinite possibilities, our north star remains in the relentless pursuit of excellence, agility, and value creation.

  2. I appreciate your time for the well-thought-out article size comments. Thanks, and you should consider writing an article to be published by MPUG.

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