Top Challenges Project Managers Face
Even experienced project managers struggle sometimes. We did a quick poll in the office and drawing on our many years of experience leading programs in the field, we identified the top 7 challenges we’ve seen on projects large and small. We have listed the challenges below, along with a couple of quick tips for addressing each situation.
Challenge 1: Poor project sponsorship
Poor project sponsorship can look like a lot of things. Commonly, you might notice:
- Decision-making taking a long time
- Constantly changing direction or shifting focus and priority
- Failure to deal with escalated issues.
Even an engaged sponsor can struggle in the role, especially if they have had no sponsor training. Lack of leadership at the top can affect timelines and budgets by adding delay and uncertainty.
Overcome by: Use contracts and agreements to set out timeframes for decision-making or approvals where multiple parties are involved.
Challenge 2: Not enough resource
Lean approaches to staffing and rising costs for goods might mean you find yourself under-resourced both in terms of people and also core materials. Resources might be more expensive or simply not available, causing delays.
Overcome by: Resource planning using enterprise project management tools like Oracle Primavera P6 will help you level out staff utilization. Capacity reports will show you where team members are over or under resourced so you can address the problem before it become an issue.
For supply chain delays, our advice is to work closely with suppliers to understand the likely timescales for delivery and keep your scheduling team updated so they can make sure the work plans reflect the situation on the ground.
Challenge 3: Changing priorities
It’s hard to meet expectations when your daily priorities change. A structured, approved project plan with a detailed schedule and accompanying information can minimize the amount of change. Many of our clients work on large-scale engineering and construction programs where the overall goal is clear. The daily task prioritization may not be, especially if resources are being used across several projects within a program.
Overcome by: Make sure the project leadership team has adequate project management training so they can schedule and manage their own workload and that of their teams. Use your project software to identify pinch points for resources across a portfolio of work. Prioritize projects within a program so team members have a clear idea about where they need to be focusing their time.
Challenge 4: Inadequate software tools
Are you trying to manage a multi-million dollar project on a spreadsheet? That’s not going to work! For one thing, it’s inefficient and prone to error. For another, it’s unlikely to meet the contract requirements set out by your client.
Overcome by: If you don’t have the skills to manage your project schedule in-house, outsource scheduling to experts who can prepare and manage it for you. Then you can focus on what you do best, knowing that your dates and timelines are being managed professionally within software tools that are fit for purpose and compliant with earned value management requirements.
Challenge 5: Poor estimating
At some point in their career, experienced project managers come up against projects that have been badly estimated. Perhaps the estimators didn’t have access to appropriate modelling tools, databases or industry guidance. Whatever the reason, the estimates are inappropriate and don’t reflect current project performance.
Overcome by: If you are not confident in the estimates at all, one option is to re-estimate the remaining tasks again, using more robust methods. Get some support so this time the output is something you can all have confidence in. Then rebaseline the plan, reforecast and reset the earned value management metrics, and start tracking against estimates that are reasonable.
Challenge 6: Scope creep
Many projects face scope changes, but that’s normal. It’s unlikely you’ll have every tiny detail worked out before ground is broken and the project begins, so change requests or change orders are part of the normal evolution of the work.
Scope creep, however, is different. It is where unapproved tasks are worked on that slightly extend the work being done. The work package gets larger, without anyone formally taking the decision to make that change. Examples from a software environment would include small code changes, adding additional features that the client has not asked for but that would be useful and welcome (this is also known as gold plating) or a client noticing something during testing that is not a bug but a new feature, and the dev team implementing it anyway.
Scope creep adds additional time and cost to the project by taking resources away from other tasks.
Overcome by: Use a work breakdown structure and work packages to keep control of what tasks are required. Time tracking can also help as it provides transparency about what is being worked on and how that links back to the plan.
Challenge 7: Overambitious targets
Have you worked with a project sponsor who wants everything? And they have an ambition that is not matched by the amount of time or funding available? Overambitious targets can be a huge problem for project teams as you cannot meet stakeholder expectations. A lot of time and energy is poured into managing expectations and bringing the executive team back to the detail and reality of what is achievable within the constraints of the program.
Overcome by: Earned value management reporting provides transparent, data-driven information that shows both past performance and forecasts. It’s a good way of visually evidencing what is expected with the available time and budget to help stakeholders understand what they can expect.
There is so much more to do if any of these problems strikes you as something your own work is facing right now. The ripple effect of any one of these challenges can be immense. While we’ve provided some quick fix solutions, the reality is that a quick fix might not be enough. We would recommend working with expert consultants and putting together the appropriate recovery plans to make sure you address any challenges and get the project back on track as quickly as possible.