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Barriers to Watch Out for in Project Management
Managing projects is complicated—managing them well is even harder.
Despite all the training, resources, tools, and methodologies available to PMs today, there is a wide array of challenges that they face on a regular basis. An HBR study suggests that nearly 20% of all projects end up costing over two times their estimated amount, and almost three-quarters of tech projects are delivered with significant delays.
The problems that cause spiraling budgets and missed deadlines can stem from a spectrum of different areas, ranging from the project manager’s ability to plan and communicate to corporate culture and beyond.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the most common barriers project managers have to address and, more importantly, explore how they can confidently overcome them.
Let’s dive right in.
Not keeping teams on the same page
A significant part of project management revolves around creating a shared sense of context for lots of people, ranging from stakeholders to team members—and while it doesn’t sound like the most technical and complicated task out there, it can be extremely challenging.
Failing to do that can often result in disorientation and lack of transparency in a project. Keeping your team on the same page will ensure that everyone understands what they’re working towards, what they need to do, and the project should be navigated.
Here are a few recommendations to help you keep everyone in sync:
- Make sure that everybody has a strong grasp of the project’s goals and priorities.
- Secure buy-in from all essential shareholders.
- Make high work standards the norm and focus on keeping that bar high throughout the project.
To some, these measures may appear fairly self-evident, but research suggests that up to 40% of projects fail because of a lack of clarity and a well-defined project plan.
Similarly, it’s crucial to establish a well-thought-out way of quantifying a team’s achievements once you’ve defined a project’s central goals. Not only does this provide everyone with a better grasp of their individual and the team’s performance, but it also acts as a solid reporting tool for project managers when communicating performance to upper management.
A very simple yet efficient way of ensuring that your goals are both useful and usable is following the SMART mnemonic— your goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Yes, this is a very basic and widespread framework for goal setting, but it seems like managers all over the world seem to disregard it on a regular basis.
Not analyzing skills and competencies
To ensure that a project will be delivered successfully and on time, it’s essential to thoroughly assess the team’s skills and competencies.
A PM’s responsibilities revolve around creating the right environment for a project to be executed well and a critical part of this task is to ensure that everyone on the team you’re working with has the necessary knowledge to do so. Failing to do so will invariably result in cascading delays, unsatisfactory work, and a host of other issues.
Before starting to work on a project, it’s vital to understand whether you’ll require additional people on board to complete the project within its allotted time frame.
If you’re looking to go the extra mile, it’s worth looking into the culture of the organization and the team itself. Often, the reason for project failure is a team’s immunity to change, along with a toxic or negative work environment. To counteract this, PMs should look into running team-building activities to strengthen the working relationship between people, underline the most pressing issues, and ensure proper goal alignment.
Being unprepared for scope creep
Change is an immutable part of life and business, for that matter. Most projects will require a slight course correction or scope reassessment at some point—and that’s totally fine. However, a critical part of a PM’s professional growth is learning to manage these moments efficiently, in order to prevent ballooning budgets, dwindling team spirit, and missing even the most reasonable deadlines.
Basically, scope creep is what happens when changes are introduced to a project unexpectedly and without any reasonable control procedure. As a result, they affect a whole array of project parameters like costs, schedules, resources, which will often prevent teams from reaching milestones on time. This phenomenon is fairly common, especially with clients that don’t have a very clear understanding of what they want and provide very vague requirements.
As a project manager, you should be mindful of this issue before it arises and counteract it as soon as possible. The best solution is being proactive in your communication with your clients during the planning phase and achieving shared agreement and understanding of a project’s requirements, goals, and expectations.
Not planning budgets
Project managers have to deal with a broad spectrum of budget-related issues on a regular basis—and it’s critical for them to learn how to address these problems in an efficient and timely manner. In fact, a study published in 2017 suggests that nearly half of the interviewed managers reported budget management as the area they most commonly face issues in.
Typically, as a team starts working on a project, the PM will typically have a good understanding of the time necessary to deliver a project and how much it will cost. However, teams, projects, and clients are different, and there can be a wide array of factors that can impact a project’s bottom line.
There are five common budget-related problems that PMs face:
- Overrunning contract expenditure
- Overrunning resource expenditure
- Overrunning risk management
- Inability to access management reserves
- Lack of expenditure tracking
It’s imperative that project managers adopt the necessary budgeting procedure and make reasonable assessments regarding a project’s needs and expenses in order to successfully avoid cost overruns.
There are plenty of things that PMs can do to make sure that they’ve estimated the budget correctly, yet it’s also important to underline that projects can be very different, so it’s critical to make the necessary adjustments when doing so. Here are a few useful recommendations:
- Analyze historical data—look back at similar projects and learn from them.
- Seek guidance from your peers—if you’re about to step into unexplored territories, it’s always a good idea to learn from fellow project managers. A quick call can easily safeguard you from the most obvious pitfalls.
- Baseline and re-baseline—budgets are a good way to track the progress of a project. However, as we mentioned previously, the vast majority of projects will have changes, and they have to be reflected in the budget as well. Make sure to re-baseline your budget once any changes are approved.
Improper risk management
An important part of a project manager’s job is to manage a project’s potential risks by understanding the potential issues a team can run into, analyzing them, defining the adequate responses to these issues, and being mindful of these risks as the project unfolds.
This may seem like a straightforward task, but given the sheer number of variables in every individual project, there’s a nearly endless number of potential problems waiting to derail its outcome. Keeping track of risks allows project managers to extract as much value as possible from opportunities and mitigate threats.
There are a few things you can do to keep these issues at bay:
- Have a well-thought-out risk management plan—this step is critical, and it should be made early in the planning phase. Start by establishing whether risk management is needed in the first place since this step can be avoided on small-scale projects. The larger the project, the more things can go wrong.
- Outline the most important risks—create a checklist of the most probable threats to your project and outline the events that can be associated with triggering these risks.
- Analyze them—it’s always a good idea to quantify the probability and the priority of each particular threat. Once you’ve established the risks that are most likely to affect your project, you should continuously keep them in mind throughout the project. There are also plenty of useful techniques and frameworks that can help you identify the most imminent risks like Monte Carlo analysis.
- Plan a response for each threat—the entire team should establish what the adequate response to every particular risk should be. Similarly, it’s always a good idea to think of possible preventive measures before a certain event even happens, as well as the necessary contingency plans associated with it.
- Control and monitor at all times—risk management is a process that demands continuous attention throughout the entire project. More importantly, it’s essential to continue exploring and identifying new risks as the project unfolds.
The bottom line
Project managers have to deal with a wide array of obstacles on a regular basis. However, most of these can be avoided with the right knowledge and a good amount of foresight.