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5 common challenges in project management and what to do about them

By Fi Darby | 01 April 2019

Project managers are always in demand and because their decisions can impact every part of a project, their ability to deal with challenges and overcome stressful situations is essential to success. Across Australia, project management is a driving factor for business prosperity and investment delivery and there can be no doubt that it represents a rewarding and exciting career, especially for those who enjoy gaining skills, knowledge and expertise.

However, with excitement comes challenge, and it is how a project manager handles these challenges that really makes an impact.  A study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers found that only 2.5% of companies bring 100% of their projects to successful completion. Forewarned is forearmed so we look at 5 common project management challenges and help you out with some clues as to how to deal with them.

Project management challenges

  1. Poor goal definition.
  2. Scope creep.
  3. Mismanagement of risk.
  4. Deadline miscalculation.
  5. Inexperienced communication.

1. Poor goal definition.

missing goals concept

From the first moment an idea hits the table, detailed goal definition has to be one of the key success factors for any project. In today’s complicated and multifaceted environments, goal definition can have many factors but these can be helpfully divided up under three main titles, performance goals (anticipated outcomes), time goals (stated end dates) and resource goals (staff and infrastructure allocated to a project).

In an ideal world, these three goals would work together but, in reality, they are often a source of conflict. For example, an anticipated outcome might be adversely affected by the pressure to meet time goals.

This is where precise goal definition can really make a difference and time spent on negotiation and detail around these three areas before a project starts always pays dividends. You can assess the suitability of your project goals by asking the questions below:

  • Have I defined my project goals before deciding on a specific solution?
  • Are all of my project goals in line with corporate strategy?
  • Have I defined too many or too few project goals?
  • Have I clearly demarcated my performance indicators?
  • Can my project goals work together in a realistic and effective manner?

2. Scope creep.

construction workers planning

New solutions and ideas present themselves at an alarming rate and it can be these subtle changes in technology, policy and expectation that lead to the nightmare of project creep. Project managers will all be able to tell you about projects that, towards completion, didn’t even remotely resemble the venture they started.

It is this kind of external input that keeps project managers on their toes but scope creep can also have an adverse effect on project success, as planned resources, strategies and time all become less than effective against moving goalposts.

A big part of avoiding scope creep is being watchful for it right from the start of a project and being prepared to make immediate judgement on new requests. You can assess your preparedness against scope creep by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have I made every effort to understand my client’s vision?
  • Have I planned for unavoidable scope creep? 
  • Have I identified the project’s major and minor milestones?
  • Am I prepared to say, ‘No,’ should project success require it?
  • Does my contract allow me to charge for additional hours of work?

3. Mismanagement of risk.

mismanagement of risks concept

For the project manager, risks come in all shapes and sizes, and can often threaten to bring a project to its knees. The most common types of risk include escalating project costs (due either to scope creep or poor goal definition), schedule slippage (accompanied by its related costs) and performance risk (where intended function requirements are not met).

Project risks can be both internal and external and it takes skill and experience to anticipate and deal with them. Unfortunately, part of gaining experience is making mistakes but asking yourself a few key questions can help you to avoid too many of these:

  • Have I worked with my team to identify current risks and anticipate future ones?
  • Have I created and am I maintaining a risk register spreadsheet?
  • Does my risk register include likelihood and possible impact scales?
  • Have I given some consideration to opportunities and positive risks?
  • Have I assigned projected costs, and owners to each risk as well as time to review them?

4. Deadline miscalculation.

looming deadlines concept

Setting a project deadline requires a few balancing skills. Set it too far away and you risk losing a contract, set it too near and you risk all of the financial and planning implications of project extension, as well as unhappy clients.

It would be unrealistic to expect all of your individual project time goals to be met exactly but keeping a close and organised eye on each of these can help you to manage delays and minimise their impact on the overall project.

Juggling deadlines can be one of the most stressful fundamentals of project management, but asking these questions before, during and after a project will help to relieve that stress.

  • Do I understand my critical path and unmovable dates?
  • Have I worked out where missed dates will incur penalties?
  • Have I set up key milestones within my critical path?
  • Have I accounted for working on multiple projects?
  • Have I made adequate plans to mitigate scope creep?

5. Inexperienced communication.

miscommunication at work

Poor communication has negative implications in any aspect of the business world but in project management it can have serious impact on goal attainment, project quality and customer relations, and even ring the death knell of a project.

It is important, even before a project starts to establish a series of communication guidelines that take into account the needs of the project manager, the project itself and any stakeholders. Whilst setting these guidelines you should ask yourself the following questions.

  • Have I set a timetable for regular strategy meetings that includes the whole team?
  • Have I discussed communication preferences with my key team members?
  • Have I considered internal communication flows in all directions?
  • Have I set guidelines to ensure respectful and polite communication throughout the project?
  • How do I encourage others to consider the medium, purpose, audience, required response and desired outcome of all communications?

How can I manage these challenges better?

If you enjoy a fast-paced environment and have a problem-solving approach to challenge, you may well find that a career in project management would suit you. Project managers often need to be highly skilled in their own field at the same time as possessing excellent workplace leadership skills.

There are certain project management techniques, such as those related to scope, quality and time management, that can be most effectively be taught in a formal learning environment such as an Upskilled online project management course or download our FREE project management ebook for further industry insights. For more information and a step up into the dynamic world of the project manager, get in touch with our team today.
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