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Common People Project Management Challenges

01 October, 2010 | Waffa Karkukulky | Project Management

Many project management challenges are centered on the people involved in a project; part of the “people, process, technology” triangle as the basis of all organizations

Introduction

There are still some common project management challenges, despite the huge efforts from the project management consortiums, project management Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and many companies that are embracing project management as a proven, efficient way to delivering a product or a service.

The phrase that organization is about people, process, and technology still holds true.  The human aspect is very crucial to the success of any process or tool.  Blaming failure on a process or a tool is an overused excuse.  People succeed or fail in an endeavor.  Therefore, it is important to examine some common people-oriented challenges in project management and to offer some simple solutions that can address these challenges.

Challenges and Simple Solutions in People Project Management

Common Challenge 1: The challenge is split in two.  First, some project managers are very tool specific and they make the assumption that their audience is able to use these project management tools and understand project progress.  Second, some project managers might create excellent plans but they never share it and consider it their own means of tracking project work.

Simple Solutions: First, identify your audience and level of details required.  Second, plan and create the plan for teams (a representative from every work stream can help validate required tasks).  Another approach is to build the plan individually as more of a “straw man” to have a walkthrough with the contributors to determine timeframes, commitments, dependencies, etc.  People are much more engaged when they contribute to estimating and predicting their own work.  Have a graphical representation of a plan for your executive audience, with more detailed material for line management, and finally develop an MS Project plan for use with the project team.

Common Challenge 2: Project managers (PMs) complain about the burden of administrative tasks in writing status reports, action items, updating schedules, etc.  Some managers complain when no standard templates are available because project managers have yet to create them, taking time from other tasks.  Yet some PMs complain when templates are there because project managers feel compelled to provide specific details that they may have wanted to skip.

Simple Solutions: If project managers are taught to treat these project tools as race car drivers treat their dashboard gauges, then project managers would be able to pay better attention to their project progress, using these tools as gauges and indicators for the entire project team.  If these administration tools are leveraged well, it allows the project manager to raise issues, escalate risks, and even to show accomplishments, teamwork, and all as part of working the plan.  Teach PMs how to use the project tools as guides to project and team management and as success measurement support tools.

Common Challenge 3: Direct line management (the authority that a project manager reports into) might be contributing to some of the common challenges.  This authority might be reflected as functional management, formalized as in a Project Management Office (PMO) or project management authority.  While the project manager’s direct line management may differ, the common issue across some management is that if they own the budget, they can still influence changes and try to maneuver the change management process, if one exists.  In the absence of a change management process, it becomes more chaotic for the project manager to enforce the needed rigor.

Simple Solutions: Direct line management should lead by example.  It is one thing to spend money on structuring the project organization by building processes, procedures, and governance models, yet another thing to override completely these processes and procedures because of budget power or authority power that allows some managers to navigate their way around what the organization supported.  Encourage direct line management to follow established policies and procedures, and to support their PMs in all project management efforts.

Common Challenge 4: Direct management lack of direction/guidance and lack of prioritization can lead the project into the wrong dimensions.  Not taking an action when the project manager escalates and requests a decision that a milestone or a delivery depends on it is bad, yet worse if the commitment to clients depends on it.

Simple Solutions: When project managers are asked why they have not escalated, a question from direct management that should follow is, “Have we done something about it to help?”  There are companies that when their project managers escalate, the direct management deem them as creating noise.  For the direct management who do not comment, they are not managing well.  All direct management needs to support the project as line managers; they have a stake in the outcome that will be a reflection on them.  They need to help the project manager prioritize and navigate through the organization structure.

Common Challenge 5: Stakeholders might be contributing to the common challenges and these challenges become more complex depending on whether they are internal or external stakeholders and if there are protocols and governance that defines the rules of engagement.  Once commitment is assumed and rules of engagement understood, any critical dates being missed, scope changes, or requirements alterations need to adhere to a change control process.

Simple Solutions: There is no magical formula for this nor is there a tool or a process.  If a structure and change management process were defined, then adherence to the rules is the simplest solution to provide.

Common Challenge 6: Hiding behind a specific methodology as an excuse to allow certain teams to operate in freedom without being questioned is a dangerous challenge as it encourages silos and autocracy, and minimizes collaboration and teamwork that is one of the main advantages that project management contributes to organizations.

Simple Solutions: It doesn’t matter what methodology the various functional teams use, as long as it is defined early and communication is transparent from every level on the project team – everything else will fall into place.  Delivering a milestone and delivering on time, but not communicating it or waiting until the status meeting is hardly teamwork.  If these individuals get away with it, then an in-depth look into the company’s culture needs to be performed.

Conclusion

Project management practice has many challenges – some of which are unique to the organization and others unique to the project.  While challenges are expected, it is the common challenges that have to deal with the “people side” of project management that remain very common to date.  These old bad habits, whether it is lack of teamwork, lack of management support, poor project manager skill set, or inadequate assessment of the project audience pose some of the most common challenges on projects today.

While there is no silver bullet to work the people dimension, project management bodies of knowledge have offered solutions on project interactions, leadership, project manager competencies, etc.

The illustration of some of the common challenges and offering the simple solution should remind all organizations that people challenges have a huge impact on morale, attitude, and progressing in the profession.  As a result, they are the most crucial to address before any process or a tool challenge.

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