6 Project Management Challenges Every PM Will Encounter (And How to Overcome Them)

by Samantha Nicholson | April 25, 2019

When you live in Oklahoma (the middle of tornado alley), you always keep a few things handy at your house: a weather radio, a few gallons of drinking water, a flashlight and a first aid kit. Even though the chances of personally experiencing a tornado are slim, we know its important to be prepared – just in case.

Likewise, any project manager worth their salt knows that projects will run into obstacles that need to be overcome. But, how do you prepare for them? Here are six roadblocks that your next project might hit – and techniques to use to prevent them or move past them once they’ve happened.

1. Dictated Constraints

You’ve been assigned as the project manager for an exciting new initiative. You set to work on understanding the project scope and making a plan to hit project objectives. When you communicate your plan to your project sponsors, however, you suddenly find yourself with less time, fewer resources, and a smaller budget than you need. Now what?

Manage expectations and address what isn’t feasible from the outset. If you know your project team can’t meet the dictated constraints, you won’t be better off bringing it up further down the road. Build a realistic plan and propose alternatives that will allow you to get the job done.

2. Changing Organizational Priorities

When you and your team are heads-down a project, it’s not uncommon for it to become the focus of your professional (and sometimes personal) world. When it does, it becomes easy to lose track of where your project is prioritized among the other projects in your organization.

Start by coming up for air more often. Start up a regular touch-base with your PMO or other project leaders to talk about goals and objectives and get feedback from leadership on which projects are most important to the organization.

3. Unclear Project Goals

Learning how to spot unclear project goals can help to avoid misdirected work and frustration with your team. To prevent ambiguity, level-set with project leadership early to ensure project goals are specific and can be measured at project completion. Check in regularly with the sponsors, stakeholders, and project team to ensure they’re in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

On long projects, setting a periodic review with key stakeholders enables you to get a 30,000-foot view of your project’s goals and how they fit with organizational goals, to capture any changes that may have occurred and to address them proactively.

4. Maintaining Team Motivation on Long Projects

Long projects can be an exciting part of a project manager’s career: they allow project teams to form relationships, get into a rhythm, and overcome complex challenges. They can also burn out even the most helpful and invested individuals if poorly managed.

As the project manager, you are responsible for keeping the project team motivated and moving forward. Take time to get to know your team members and what motivates them, and incorporate those activities throughout the project that nourish engagement.

5. Poor Project Communication

Communication permeates every phase, activity, and task that occurs within a project. If you observe gaps or obstacles to project communication, they need to be addressed as quickly as possible to get back on track.

Create a communication plan that outlines all of the information that is critical to communicate and how you plan to address each subject. Ask stakeholders and project leaders how they would like to be updated. Finally, don’t be afraid to over-communicate! Use a variety of communication channels — emails, phone calls, collaboration site updates, and team meetings — to make sure important information is getting through.

6. Conflict in Projects

When the personalities on a project team start to clash, it can get out of hand fast. A team overcome by conflict will collaborate less effectively, and project progress can slow or decrease in quality.

Resolving the problem is vital to team morale and project success. At the beginning of a project, set ground rules about how the team should manage conflict. When established approaches fail, it’s your job to step in and encourage team members to address their differences in a professional way.

There Are No Easy Projects

There will always be unexpected project management challenges that come up. Identifying the obstacles that occur more frequently, you can build a project challenge toolkit that can help you proactively manage and even avoid the challenges your project will likely face.

Looking for more tactics to add to your project challenge toolkit? Check out our class, Surviving Project Management: The Fundamentals of Managing Projects. Enrollment is open now!

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