Top 10 PM Challenges
Top 10 Project Management Challenges
by P. W. Ford
Whether you are a new project manager, or an experienced leader, project
management will continue to reveal itself as part art, part science, and
part major headache! The list below highlights some of the top project
management challenges, along with suggested solution ideas to help overcome
- Unrealistic deadlines -
Some would argue that the majority of projects have "schedule slippage"
as a standard feature rather than an anomaly. The challenge of many
managers becomes to find alternate approaches to the tasks and schedules
in order to complete a project "on time", or to get approval
for slipping dates out. An "absolute" time-based deadline
such as a government election, externally-scheduled event, or public
holiday forces a on-time completion (though perhaps not with 100% of
desired deliverables). But, most project timelines do eventually slip
due to faulty initial deadlines (and the assumptions that created them).
Solution: Manage the stress of "the immovable rock and the
irresistible force" (i.e. the project deadline and the project
issues) with creative planning, alternatives analysis, and communication
of reality to the project participants. Also determine what deadlines
are tied to higher level objectives, or have critical links into schedules
of other projects in the organization's portfolio.
- Communication deficit
- Many project managers and team members do not provide enough
information to enough people, along with the lack of an infrastructure
or culture for good communication. Solution: Determine proper
communication flows for project members and develop a checklist of what
information (reports, status, etc.) needs to be conveyed to project
participants. The communications checklist should also have an associated
schedule of when each information dissemination should occur.
- Scope changes
- As most project managers know, an evil nemesis "The Scope
Creep" is usually their number one enemy who continually tries
to take control. Solution: There is no anti-scope-creep spray
in our PM utility belts, but as with many project management challenges,
document what is happening or anticipated to happen. Communicate what
is being requested, the challenges related to these changes, and the
alternate plans, if any, to the project participants (stakeholders,
team, management, and others).
- Resource competition
- Projects usually compete for resources (people, money, time)
against other projects and initiatives, putting the project manager
in the position of being in competition. Solution: Portfolio
Management - ask upper level management to define and set project priority
across all projects. Also realize that some projects seemingly are more
important only due to the importance and political clout of the project
manager, and these may not be aligned with the organization's goals
- Uncertain dependencies
- As the project manager and the team determine project dependencies,
assessing the risk or reliability behind these linkages usually involves
trusting someone else's assessment. "My planner didn't think that
our area could have a hurricane the day of the wedding, and now we're
out of celebration deposits for the hall and the band, and the cost
of a honeymoon in Tahiti!" Solution: Have several people
- use brainstorming sessions - pick at the plan elements and dependencies,
doing "what if?" scenarios. Update the list of project risk
items if necessary based on the results.
- Failure to manage risk
- A project plan has included in it some risks, simply listed,
but no further review happens unless instigated by an event later on.
Solution: Once a project team has assessed risks, they can either
(1) act to reduce the chance of the risk occurrence or (2) act or plan
towards responding to the risk occurrence after it happens.
- Insufficient team skills - The
team members for many projects are assigned based on their availability,
and some people assigned may be too proud or simply not knowledgeable
enough to tell the manager that they are not trained for all of their
assigned work. Solution: Starting with the project manager role,
document the core set of skills needed to accomplish the expected workload,
and honestly bounce each person's skills against the list or matrix.
Using this assessment of the team, guide the team towards competency
with training, cross-training, additional resources, external advisors,
and other methods to close the skills gap.
- Lack of accountability - The project
participants and related players are not held accountable for their
results - or lack of achieving all of them. Solution: Determine
and use accountability as part of the project risk profile. These accountability
risks will be then identified and managed in a more visible manner.
- Customers and end-users are not engaged during
the project. Project teams can get wound up in their own
world of internal deliverables, deadlines, and process, and the people
on the outside do not get to give added input during the critical phases.
Solution: Discuss and provide status updates to all project participants
- keep them informed! Invite (and encourage) stakeholders, customers,
end-users, and others to periodic status briefings, and provide an update
to those that did not attend.
- Vision and goals not well-defined -
The goals of the project (and the reasons for doing it), along with
the sub-projects or major tasks involved, are not always clearly defined.
Clearly communicating these vague goals to the project participants
becomes an impossible task. Some solutions and ideas to thrash vagueness:
Determine which parts of a project are not understood by the team
and other project participants - ask them or note feedback and questions
that come up. Check the project documentation as prepared, and tighten
up the stated objectives and goals - an editor has appropriate skills
to find vague terms and phrasing. Each project is, hopefully, tied into
to the direction, strategic goals, and vision for the whole organization,
as part of the portfolio of projects for the organization.
Project leadership is a skill that takes time to develop in
a person or organization. Achieving success requires
analyzing setbacks and failures in order to improve.
Focusing on each project's challenges and learning from them
will help to build a more capable and successful project
© 2004 P. W. Ford