How to Solve Top Project Management Challenges?

Project Management and challenges go hand in hand. No matter what you do they are just inseparable and joint at the hips!

Pickup any project from your experience and you will find not a single project that did not have challenges written all over it. Right from the inception to closure all the way!

We are an advanced breed of technocrats, project management gurus and executive ninjas. Yet fail to prevent these challenges.

Why is it so?

Simple answer – projects entail multiple moving parts and all of which aren’t under our control.

Project Management is deployed to ensure

  • Achieving the end goal
  • Delivering on time
  • Deliverables meet the agreed quality
  • Expected business value is realized
  • All of the above is achieved within the allocated budget

Now how much of it have we been able to achieve? Any guesses on the success rates?

A Harvard Business Review (HBR) report states:

“On average, one in six projects saw a budget overrun of 200 percent.”

At the same time Gallup reported that – “Only 2.5 percent of companies complete 100 percent of their projects successfully.”

Overwhelming failure rates here!

Intrigued by these facts, we @Orangescrum ran a little survey among our customers to confirm findings from our own experience as an established digital and SaaS product development company.

The results were quite reassuring but we will come to that in a bit.

What piqued our interest was there was a common pattern across how companies from IT, Marketing, Product Development or SaaS businesses ran their projects.

The key factors that wreaked havoc on their projects were:

  • Lack of Stakeholder(s) & Sponsor interest
  • Unmanageable Scope Creep
  • Ineffective Time and Resource Management practices
  • Poorly defined Task Management processes
  • Not using a relevant Project Management & Collaboration tool

Let’s dive in for actionable insights!

Lack of Stakeholder(s) and Sponsor interest

Projects cannot survive if there isn’t enough support and funding from your sponsors and stakeholders.

A 2017, PMI research confirms that.

“62 percent of completed projects included project sponsors who were actively supportive.”

As a project manager, you would well understand that your sponsors do not care about the nitty gritty of your planning and execution.

They care about the overall vision, the end game and the goal! Or as my boss says – “Show me the meat! And sometimes – Where’s the cheese?”

What do you think they need?

  • Are we on track to meet the defined strategic vision?
  • A crisp real time snapshot of how your project fares w.r.t the defined timelines and cost
  • Is the project on track?
  • Are there any roadblocks?

How can we enable this?

  • Make a robust Communication plan
  • Define relevant metrics that align with the project goal

Having setup the above 2, focus on their key ingredients.

Your Communication Plan must include definite timelines, frequency, mode of communication and access to the central repository or dashboard that is easily accessible by your stakeholders and sponsors.

Communication

The key objective here, is to keep the stakeholders engaged throughout the project. Involve them in the key decisions, inform them on priority about pressing issues and consult consistently on conflicting items. Build a rapport!

Similarly, your project reporting and metrics must be crafted with a careful approach. For starters they should not be mere numbers and cumbersome. Rather, identify the key 3-5 metrics that showcase true project performance.

Project Report

Some Metrics you can Report on

  • Milestone Progress
  • Planned vs Actual expenses
  • Resource Allocation
  • Billable hours report
  • Issue lists with priority and impact

When you make it easier for your stakeholder’s to easily assess your project’s performance, they are bound to show interest and further confidence in the initiative. Furthermore, you can also expect them to step up and help solve and support critical issues, risks or organizational conflicts.

All of which are a must for your project’s success!

Unmanageable Scope Creep

Scope Creep

We all have been there, done it all! As troublesome as it sounds, this is one challenge that is the most difficult one to prevent.

Before we look into preventing it, let us first pay attention to what got us there in the first place?

  • Project goals weren’t defined or unclear during initiation
  • Stakeholders, Customers and teams weren’t on the same page w.r.t scope
  • No mechanism was put in place on how to handle project financials with an evolving scope
  • No sign-off on the scope

Sounds familiar? Absolutely! I bet!

Well, we do understand the intricacies of the business. There is competition, technology changes, eagerness to build a brand, get more logos on the board and more.

These factors pay a significant role in how we approach new prospects and projects.

In our race to win, we overlook the crucial elements regarding scope handling and implementation.

But we can still prevent these.

As a seasoned project manager, ensure a thorough review of the scope before starting the project.

Invest enough time to understand the scope and what is it that the sponsor wishes to achieve.

Identify and establish

  • Clear project goals
  • What will be delivered
  • Items that are out of scope
  • Assumptions made, if any
  • Sponsors and Teams are in alignment with the scope
  • Change Request process to handle changes in scope
  • Get Sign-off

A survey of 600 executives across the USA by Geneca indicates – “78 percent of a group of IT and business professionals reported that their business was not aligned with project goals.”

How do these help us?

  • First and foremost, you garner your customer’s confidence and support towards the project.
  • Second, your teams understand the scope better, are in alignment with the project goal and know what is expected of them.
  • And third, your customers and sponsors would be discouraged from making frequent scope change requests.

All of these help you prevent your project from going off-track and also helps minimize distractions for your team.

So, more focus on actual work and issues that take you closer to the project goal rather than creating conflicts!

Ineffective Time and Resource Management Practices

Understanding the time and resource management practices of your organization is key to ensuring project success.

One of the most common challenges with time tracking is the team’s attitude towards it. They view it as time consuming, unimportant and a cumbersome task.

Time Tracking

There may be multiple reasons behind it.

  • Lack of a well-defined time management process
  • Organization has never implemented a time tracking mechanism
  • The current time tracking tool is too manual and complex to use

These do not augur well for your project.

Simply put: you would have total chaos when it comes to meeting your project deadlines.

Because you won’t have answers to

  • How good is my resource utilization?
  • Are my planned vs actual hours in sync?
  • Are my tasks being completed on time?
  • What is my true billable hours count?
  • How much of my project time is spent on non-billable activities?
  • Am I overspending on resources?

Get the drill? You do not want to be a part of this mess and must prevent it right from the beginning.

A 2017 PMI report suggests – “Organizations with 80 percent or more of projects being completed on time and on budget waste significantly less money due to poor project performance.”

What can you do?

  • Establish time tracking ground rules at the beginning of the project.
  • Provide a team an easy to use time tracking tool.
  • Define cut-off times by which timesheets must be submitted.
  • Ensure awareness around non-billable activities.
  • Define billable hours’ criteria.
  • Have role based hourly rates for the project resources.
  • Consistent tracking of task progress and estimated vs actual hours.

Project Manager – The Dos & Don’ts!

Maintaining control over your resource planning is equally important.

It goes without saying that resources account for a major chunk of your project budget. And more importantly your project success depends on your project team.

Hence, do understand the project requirements and scope in great detail. As it would help you to:

  • Estimate the resources needed to deliver the project on time.
  • Identify required skill sets for quality deliverables.
  • Assess your available talent pool.
  • Define training and reskilling program for your resources and associated costs.
  • Strategize your outsourcing needs and costs.

Similarly when it comes to project execution, you must account for

  • Resource availability – who are available readily for your project?
  • Resource Allocation – who all can be repurposed & allocated, when and for how long?
  • Resource Utilization – how are they performing & their productivity rates?
  • Leave & holiday plans during the course of the project
  • Resource-Skill Matrix – required skills and availability of resources per these skills.

Once you are able to account these into your resource planning, you are on the right track to successful project completion.

However, these are easier said than done. Once at the helm of a project, you must

  • Build rapport with the resource managers
  • Provide resources with crisp answers to What’s in it for me (WIFM)
  • Enable transparency & take ownership of the team’s failures
  • Provide a platform to discuss and resolve conflicts
  • Celebrate wins
  • Keep your teams motivated

Most important of all be approachable and available when they need your support. Inspire trust among the team so that they give their best to the project.

Poorly defined Task Management Processes

Adding a structure to your projects is the best way to track progress.

In project management terms we call it – Work Breakdown Structure or WBS

A WBS helps you break large complex projects or tasks into smaller manageable and actionable bits called as tasks.

A well-defined WBS helps the team to channel their focus and efforts towards smaller yet achievable targets and acts as a building block for your project – one task at a time.

The sad part is most organizations fail to understand this and try to do everything at once.

The result being teams are overwhelmed, requirements are misunderstood and things get lost in translation.

An optimal approach towards efficient Task Management would be to

  • Assign tasks based on skill and expertise
  • Define estimated hours so that the assignee understands the work and results expected of him
  • Have well defined start and end dates
  • Establish clear dependencies with other tasks
  • Have quick and short status review meetings to discuss roadblocks
  • Enable transparent communication among team members
  • Monitor progress regularly

However, when you deploy the above robust task management practices, your projects benefits significantly.

  • There is better task allocation.
  • Everyone can see the impact of their work on the overall project instantly.
  • Ad-hoc issues and distractions are minimized.
  • Issues are identified and resolved faster.
  • Administrative delays are reduced.
  • Teams are motivated to help each other.
  • Overall task completion rates improve.

Effective task management enables quicker outcomes and everyone on the team has his roles and responsibilities well defined. As a result, productivity increases and output with optimal quality is generated.

Not using a relevant Project Management & Collaboration Tool

“Project management initiatives save companies 28 times more money since their output is more reliable.” – PMI 2017 report!

“Organizations using any type of project management methodology are better at meeting budget, staying on schedule and meeting scope, quality standards and expected benefits.” – PMI 2015

Having clearly established, the significance of adopting a project management methodology, I would like to discuss about how we actually adopt one.

Sure, there are many methodologies to choose from. Namely – waterfall, scrum, Kanban and many more. The key is to understand what works best for your organization and find a tool that enables those methodologies.

Why do we need a project management software?

  • Most of them are cloud based and allow ease of access from anywhere and anytime.
  • They offer a single platform for all your project management needs.
  • A platform that brings your project team, customers and sponsors together.
  • Enablers of end to end task, time, resource management and project reporting.
  • Act as a central repository for all our project data – single source of truth.
  • Comprehensive real time collaboration for your teams.
  • Propagate absolute transparency among the team.
  • Ensures seamless communication with your team irrespective of their location.
  • Take away manual and repetitive activities out of your project management activities.

And lastly, there is absolute visibility to your projects across the organization. No more guess work.

87 percent of high-performing companies use project management software.

Online project and task collaboration tools provide deep actionable insights in real time and hence enable quick and impactful decision making.

As a result, project discussions are more focused on proactive risk management, conflict resolution and ensuring high quality outcomes.

Wrapping it up!

Project Management success is evident when all of its moving parts are in sync and work in the same direction – towards the project goal. Handling these challenges effectively and in a timely manner improves chances of your project success and helps growing your business.

What challenges have you been up to recently?

Bring them on for meaningful discussions and impactful solutions!

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