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Challenges of project management

In the previous step, you have reflected on the challenges you faced with projects. Now it is time to discuss them in detail.

Whether you are a new project manager or an experienced leader, project management can be considered to be part art, part science and part headache. Balancing the elements of a complex project – cost, schedule and scope – is one of the jobs of a project manager. The list below highlights some key project management challenges you may need to deal with.

Project design

Undefined goals: The goals of the project, along with the reasons for major tasks involved, are not always clearly defined, which can cause the team and the project to suffer. The project manager must ask the right questions to establish and communicate clear goals.

Scope changes: Scope changes or ‘scope creep‘ occurs when the project’s scope extends beyond its original objectives, for instance a project to develop a new car introduces the requirement for a sun roof that was not in the original plan. This is ‘scope creep’ and may change the timescale and the costs associated with the project. It is the role of the project manager to evaluate each request and decide if and how to implement it, while communicating the effects on budget and deadlines.

Working with a team

Inadequate skills for the project: Quite often, a project requires skills that the project’s team members do not possess. A project manager can determine the needed competencies, assess the available skills and recommend training, outsourcing or hiring additional staff.

Lack of accountability: Projects can be brought to a halt if participants are not held accountable for their results (or lack thereof). Rather than finger-pointing or trying to avoid blame, project managers should learn to direct teams towards a common goal and assign clear roles to their team members.

Poor communication: Without communication and sharing of information, it becomes nearly impossible to collaborate. Effective training in written and oral communication skills and good communication practices (e.g. weekly/monthly meetings) linked to a proper infrastructure (e.g. document sharing, video conference systems) will enhance collaboration.

Ongoing project management

Impossible deadlines: Misjudged initial deadlines (and the assumptions that created them) can be a major cause of ‘schedule slippage’. To deal with a slipping schedule, project managers need to be able to find alternative approaches to the project in order to complete a project on time, or to get approval for moving the deadline.

Resource deprivation: Projects usually compete for resources (people, money, time) against other projects or initiatives, and under-resourced projects are unlikely to run effectively. Project managers need to define needs and obtain approval up front, which helps project managers assign and prioritise resources throughout the duration of a project.

Lack of engagement: A disinterested team member, client, CEO or vendor can destroy a project. A skilled project manager needs to encourage feedback at every step to create greater engagement among participants.

Dealing with risk and change

Improper management of risks: While it may be rare for a project to run entirely according to the initial plan, a project manager needs to be ready to deal with risk and should plan accordingly.

Ambiguous contingency plans: If contingencies are not identified and managed, the entire project can become mired in an unexpected set of problems. Identifying potential problem areas and knowing which direction to take can lead to a smooth and successful project.

Project leadership is a skill that takes time to develop in a person or organisation. Achieving success requires analysing 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 management capability.

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This article is from the free online course:

Business Fundamentals: Project Management

The Open University