The primary objective of running project management is to achieve project success. As other things your projects are also bound to have challenges whether you like it or not.
The entire thing rests on your ability to proactively assess probable challenges and account for them right from the project inception.
Sure, this takes time and experience to get good at it.
But let us get you a head start with some of the most common project management challenges that we can mitigate with careful planning.
Take an example of your last product or website development project and work backwards in terms of the challenges faced by the developers, designers and you as an IT Project Manager.
Client Requirement – A one-liner email or discussion point
Any IT Project Manager or digital agency would agree to the fact that this by far the most frequent challenge they come across.
Having said that, it also makes it interesting enough and opens up quite a big opportunity too.
One, you get an opening into helping the user map out his requirements, educate him and thereby build trust initially which goes a long way during the course of the project.
And two, you get to demonstrate your expertise and up-sell, cross-sell too which means additional revenue.
At the same time this can be very frustrating when the client is unsure of what he wants, what are his goals and the vision of the final outcomes.
This can almost kill your project even before it starts.
It is important that you help your client
- finalize his requirements
- identify pending information gaps
- walk him through a process of how the engagement would work
- define important milestones
- segregate relevant tasks
By doing this, you reduce the ambiguity quotient of the project, have a great scope to work with and obtain sign-off.
It is also advisable that the commercials are well laid out majorly in terms of how to handle the in-scope and out of scope items, revisions etc.
Laying a transparent and robust foundation around deliverables and timelines is crucial to the success of the engagement.
Ever Changing Requirements
Now, this one is a true bummer! Everyone hates it!
It is understood that scope revisions will always happen. But being the experts, it’s our job to ensure these are reduced to the minimum or are rare.
One needs to be fairly proactive to assess how the project will be run right from the initial customer interactions.
When you see that the client may not have clear answers until certain aspects are achieved or it is evident they are going to have evolving changes the scope must accommodate this fact.
You must define clear steps on how requirement changes and ad-hoc requests would be accepted and the costs associated with them.
Have a formal change request process defined within your scope or contract to handle such requests once your project is in-flight.
Irrespective of that, repeated urgent requests pop-up and throw your project off-track.
The team gets distracted too frequently and the project deliverables, quality and timelines are negatively impacted.
Moreover, it becomes a challenge to stay focused and keep these deliverables aligned to the primary objective of the project as the new requests may not be in sync.
Hence, a greater risk to the overall stakeholder expectation management and project success.
This is where your change process comes in handy.
It will put the onus on the customer to
- be more judicious towards the ad hoc requests
- take a holistic view of “must have” and “good to have” items
- do a time and cost benefit analysis of the requested changes
- discourage requests based on whims of their internal teams
- stay aligned with the primary project objective
You stand to gain from the clarity and professionalism maintained here. There is no room for heresy or dispute.
All in all, you get to win the customer’s confidence, maintain project momentum and deliver with quality.
Not obtaining timely or no feedback at all
You got the scope finalized, signed the contract and took off with the project. Great!
But how about maintaining consistent customer engagement? How do you do that?
“Most development projects are delayed, need remediation, executive intervention or simply put in the ice box due to lack of timely and enough customer feedback.”
And before that, the most concerning part is where the team loses sight of the original requirements, get driven by ambition and develop more than asked. The inverse is true too!
On the other hand, the resulting product or app tends to be overly complex, not user-friendly or in worst cases, fails to meet the desired outcomes.
What can we do to prevent such discouraging turn of events?
Be agile! Not fragile! Adopt the agile methodology – Kanban or Scrum. Whatever works for the project and the customer! Just choose your drug!
Constant customer engagement and feedback is the corner stone of agile methodology.
It helps organizations to deliver quality output in a timely manner with utmost customer satisfaction.
“Your customers act as an extended team with a very high engagement quotient and are equally involved in the success of the project.”
This helps you to prevent any glaring misses or misplaced requirements. The team stays focused on the end goal and true to the requirements and specifications.
The result – delivered product or service is in direct accordance with the customer’s expectation and with the desired quality.
“71% of organizations report greater agility over the last five years. More and more organizations are recognizing that agility—the capability to quickly sense and adapt to external and internal changes to deliver relevant results in a productive and cost-effective manner—is helping them stay competitive.” – Pulse of the Profession 2018
Shifting Priorities leads to Shifting Projects
Almost all product and services agencies are guilty of it at one point or another. And it happens at the client end too!
It is a common occurrence where either of the two parties enter into a tug-o-war internally among various projects.
Something comes up unexpectedly and all your plans for the week or month go askew.
If you are the client, you still have control and can delay based on your organizational priorities.
But if you are at the other hand, you are in for a treat.
“You cannot afford to disappoint an old & long term high paying client and neither can lose the new one.”
Customers do not like to be taken for granted and always wants things done yesterday.
Moreover, professionalism dictates that commitments be kept to maintain customer confidence and your company’s reputation.
In a way it is a good problem to have but to be ready to handle them to your customers’ satisfaction is key.
You need to
- monitor your pipeline proactively
- take a hard look at the customer queue to reprioritize them internally
- negotiate within your company or with the customers that may offer a leeway
- stay on top of your resource allocation
- ask for extra help where possible
But most importantly, schedule calls with the customers whose work you are going to delay.
Be honest, have a plan on how you intend to make up for lost time if any & share the redrawn timelines so they know they are still your priority and the fact that there wouldn’t be a major deadline or quality shift.
Not enough Quality Assurance (QA)
In our rush to get things to the customers the quality of our deliverables are often impacted or neglected.
And as a result we end up spending more efforts on issue fixing post go-live. This is a dangerous practice and must be discouraged always.
Bake in enough testing efforts into your project schedule upfront.
Additionally, have a robust quality assurance team and process for rigorous testing. Have stringent processes in place to ensure only quality work is pushed out of the door.
Now, there is another scenario, where ad hoc requests are made post go-live. Tweak something here, something there!
Prevent and discourage your clients from making such requests.
Have well defined UAT & hand-off process and let know where the buck stops.
The change management process from the contract will kick in and help maintain transparency with all stakeholders.
If this isn’t taken care of right at the beginning of the project then you are bound to encounter issues such as
- dip in productivity
- distracted and demotivated team members
- delayed project delivery
- product release with defects all over it
- dissatisfied customers
- loss of revenue and reputation
“Quality is the ally of schedule and cost, not their adversary. If we have to sacrifice quality to meet schedule, it’s because we are doing the job wrong from the very beginning.” – James A. Ward
Handle them all, together!
Having known the common pitfalls, it is important that we take proactive measures with “Communication and Collaboration” being the center of our efforts.
It has been proven through experience that sharing relevant information with the right audience at the right time has always saved the day.
Make it a non-negotiable practice to have a robust communication plan drawn in for all your projects and ensure they are a part of the overall project plan.
The communication plan must provide the who, what, when and where so that the entire project team (all stakeholders from both sides) is on the same page and have the info they need and when they need.
Share timely project progress and status reports, metrics as applicable with the team and highlight issues the moment they are identified for timely and qualitative resolution.
This way your customers know when to expect what and are never anxious of the progress or uncertain of the progress success.
Having a weekly checkpoint with the customers is a great way to achieve this.
“A customer talking about their experience with you is worth ten times that which you write or say about yourself.” ? David J. Greer