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What is the most challenging thing about being a project manager?
Juggling multiple tasks? Managing stakeholders’ expectations? Navigating through tricky situations? It goes without saying that project managers don’t have it easy. After all, every project they take on is different. No two project teams are the same, either. However, it doesn’t mean that, as a project manager, you have to simply hope for the best and expect the worst. You have a considerable impact on how your projects pan out.
Sure, some project challenges are almost inevitable, but you can be prepared for them! Today, we’ll discuss some common project management challenges and show you how you can avoid or tackle them.
Common project management challenges:
Unclear expectations. Here, we’re talking about your expectations towards your team members and stakeholders’ expectations regarding the team’s work. While these two cases are slightly different, you can use similar strategies to solve both challenges. When it comes to your clients, make sure you understand the underlying business objective behind the project. What do they want to achieve? How is this project going to help them hit that goal? Don’t be afraid to ask questions and, once you’re ready to validate the scope of the project, discuss the expectations as well. Sometimes it’s even useful to specifically outline what is outside of the scope of work. In order to make your team understand project expectations, you should also encourage them to ask questions and clearly explain the reasons behind different tasks. Remember that your team members should also thoroughly understand the business objectives of the project.
Inadequate resources. Resource-related challenges in projects may have severe consequences. After all, you need adequately competent people to bring your project to life. The problems here may start as early as at the project planning stage when you want to assemble the team. If your company doesn’t use a resource calendar to manage all employees, you may find it very difficult to identify appropriate resources to join the project team. Ideally, you would want to be able to look for, e.g., specific skills in your company’s resource pool. Of course, you also have to make sure that the people you want on your team are available to work during a particular time frame.
Again, this is where a resource calendar is very handy. Having visibility into your resources’ capacity and availability is a vital element of risk management. If, for instance, one of your team members becomes unavailable due to unforeseen circumstances, you’ll be able to find replacement quicker.
Effective resource forecasting is also essential if you want to avoid resource shortages. Are you sure you have enough people to deliver the project?
Inaccurate estimates. Granted, estimating projects is a complex element of project management, and estimates are rarely extremely accurate. However, this doesn’t mean that you should just give up and assume that your team’s forecasts will be way off. There are things you can do to tip the scales in your favor:
- Collect all requirements before you start estimating. Discuss them with stakeholders to make sure you and your team fully understand their nature and potential dependencies.
- Ask subject experts (e.g., software developers, quality assurance specialists, etc.) to participate in the estimating session. Their input will be very valuable and will help you end up with more accurate estimates.
- Use a proven technique from project estimation. Here’s where you can learn more about estimating projects with Planning Poker and story points.
Scope creep. When asking project managers about project management challenges, scope creep is likely to appear at the top of their lists. It’s a fairly common occurrence, and it happens when the project scope grows uncontrollably. It may be caused by a poorly defined project scope, pressures from external and internal stakeholders, or lack of a defined change management process. Fortunately, as a project manager, you have several strategies to manage scope creep or even prevent it in the first place. It all starts with a well-prepared scope of work. Effective project scope management will help you tremendously: once you have defined and validated all project requirements, you can have more confidence in your project’s scope.
What if you feel that your project’s scope has been spinning out of control? You’ll find some helpful tips in our guide to scope creep in project management.
Poor communication. Project managers need to effectively communicate with the members of their project team, but also clients, other stakeholders, or even their own managers. Each of these parties may require a different style of communication and different channels to touch base. It’s imperative that the project manager comes up with a communication plan and shares it with everyone involved. Define the communication channels, set up some rules regarding project updates (e.g., status reports), and, importantly, avoid ineffective meetings! It will help maintain the right level of project transparency and steer clear of communication challenges in your projects.
With many teams switching to remote work due to the global pandemic, communication may have become a challenge even for businesses that had been handling it well up to that point. Is that the case for your team as well? Read our blog post to learn more about the best practices of remote communication.
Scheduling conflicts. Understandably, these types of project management problems may quickly derail the whole project. When your company is responsible only for one project at a time, it may seem easier to avoid project scheduling conflicts. Still, if you don’t coordinate your project bookings with your resources’ availability, you may run into trouble. What if it turns out that one of your project team’s key members has planned a 2-week vacation and you haven’t taken that into account when planning the timeline?
With multiple projects at stake, avoiding scheduling conflicts may even be more challenging, but it’s possible. The most important thing is to give all project managers visibility into each project’s schedule and the availability of resources. With that information at hand, scheduling issues are less likely to happen. You can use an online calendar planner to schedule multiple projects without clashes.
Uncertainty regarding the progress of the project. Every project manager needs to be able to monitor the status of the project. It has several benefits: you can keep your finger on the budget, check what your team’s workload is, and potentially identify improvement areas. Knowing where things are allows you to make data-driven project management decisions. You can also react faster when things don’t go according to the plan.
There are many different ways in which you can measure the health of your project. We recommend tracking the following metrics:
- Burn rate – checking how fast the budget is spent is valuable for project managers, as you can quickly check if the project is on the right track.
- Estimates vs. actuals – comparing estimated hours with actual time logged in by your employees is an excellent method to spot potential issues early.
- Resource utilization – it allows you to assess the workload of your team members. You’ll see who has too much on their plate and is in danger of being overworked. You’ll also know who could take up more tasks.
Unsuitable toolbox. Project management apps are meant to help you and your team deliver projects successfully. For it to happen, however, you have to utilize the right tools for your business. Otherwise, you may waste much time onboarding your employees to apps that don’t have tangible effects on their work. Imagine a situation where some people from your project team spend much time on the go, for instance, traveling to the client. If you ask them to track time with a project management software that doesn’t have a mobile version, it will be very inconvenient. What’s more, their timesheets will likely be less than accurate, as they will fill them out retrospectively.
Before you decide to add a new app to your team’s toolbox, start by listing your needs. Then check if a given tool answers them. Does it integrate with other tools your team uses? Can it be customized to reflect your company’s processes? Utilizing tools that support your team’s workflow will make life easier for the team and the project manager.
Even if you have extensive project management training or considerable professional experience, the issues described above may easily put a spoke in your wheel and negatively affect your project. As a project manager, it’s useful to know how to prevent or overcome their consequences. This blog post is like a starting point: we’ve outlined some common challenges in project management, but it’s still worth reading up on each particular topic. We hope that the links we’ve listed next to each challenge mentioned above will help you further develop your project management expertise.