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Masooma Memon

15 Common Project Management Challenges & How to Deal with Them

Project management can often feel a bit like fighting fires. But if you prepare ahead of time for how to tackle common project management challenges, things will work out a lot easier!

As much as it pains us to confront it, the reality is that all projects are plagued with different challenges at some point in their lifecycle.

Sometimes it’s unplanned delays. Other times, it’s scope creep, poor budgeting, or lack of resource planning.

But the best way to deal with these unwelcome but inevitable project management challenges? Be aware of what challenges can come your way so you can be prepared to deal with them. 

In this guide, let’s take you through a list of 15 project management challenges you need to be mindful of — alongside practical tips to overcome them:

1. Scope creep

Scope creep happens when project work runs outside the expected or agreed-upon workload.

Over half (52%) of projects experience scope creep according to a 2018 study by Project Management Institute — making it one of the biggest project management challenges.

Interestingly, it’s often poor internal processes (think: lack of documentation) or poor communication around project work and expectations with clients that birth scope creep. 

For instance, a client pays for an interior design blueprint but expects the design studio to oversee construction work too. This adds billable work to your team’s plate, making it out of the original project scope.

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Document and share the project scope with your client. This helps set the right expectations with clients from the get-go.
  • Establish clear communication with your clients throughout the project lifecycle. Besides communicating the project scope, make sure you clarify how changes to the project scope will impact the total project bill and the work process.
  • Outline the work scope to the responsible project team. This ensures team members don’t commit time to doing work outside the original scope.

2. Team dynamics and communication obstacles

Poor team interactions breed 92% of work-related stress — speaking volumes of the impact this project management challenge creates.

For example, let’s say a team member doesn’t respect their colleague’s work hours. As a result, they regularly delay providing feedback on the work the other team member shares with them — making it difficult for them to meet their internal deadlines.

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Set and align team members around shared goals. This also means team members need to monitor the same project progress and performance metrics.
  • Clearly define everybody’s roles and responsibilities. Clarity around responsibilities ensures everybody knows what’s expected of them and what they can expect from others.
  • Establish guidelines for clear communication. Left unchecked, poor communication can often lead to mis- or under-communication, negatively impacting team dynamics. Clarify how team members should communicate (example: the channels to use) and when (example: regular check-ins and progress updates).

Dive deeper into improving your team dynamics: 6 Indispensable Tips to Help You Improve Team Dynamics

3. Resource allocation and time constraints

Poor visibility of available resources, their availability, and skillset often leads to poor resource allocation.

The result? Team members are either underutilized or overcommitted. The former threatens poor employee engagement — increasing risk of employee turnover, whereas, the latter increases burnout.

Additionally, overcommitted sources are proven to cause project delays. In fact, overcommitted employees show a utilization rate of 125%, far higher than the average recommended utilization rate of 80%.

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Create and regularly update a skills-based resource database. List out all the skills you need to run projects in your organization. Then match employees with the skills — including a rating of their expertise level. You can always create this skills inventory in a spreadsheet or build it in Runn. 
  • Encourage managers to use the employee inventory for resource allocation. This helps you find the best skill fit for projects, assign work based on capacity, and meet project timelines better.

Dive deeper into resource planning and utilization:

4. Risk identification and mitigation

Poor risk identification is often a direct consequence of poor project planning.

That is: when you don’t commit time to mapping potential risks that can crop up in a project’s lifecycle, you often can’t mitigate those risks in time.

Ultimately, this leads to resource wastage. In several instances, the damage can be significant — say delayed project delivery. For example, an employee takes an unexpected prolonged sick leave, impacting the project deadline. 

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Commit time to identifying potential project risks. Make sure you dedicate enough time to risk mapping during the project planning phase.
  • Understand that there are different types of risk that can impact projects. For example, resource risk, cost risk, scope creep, market risk, and so on. Having this know-how better prepares you for dealing with different risks. 

5. Burnout prevention and team well-being

Team wellness is not only important for maintaining project work quality and meeting timelines but also for retaining employees.

Despite its benefits though, a quarter of employees experience burnout symptoms according to a 2022 McKinsey Health survey.

Yet another research reveals that 75% of employees experience burnout. 76% of the respondents from the same study also admit workplace stress affects their mental health.

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Set and model healthy work boundaries. Encourage remote employees to share their work hours so everyone knows when to expect to hear from them. And make sure you model the behavior so everyone can replicate it. 
  • Track resource utilization metrics. Managing resources in Runn means you can see employees’ utilization and capacity in easy-to-read charts that show you how under- or over-utilized team members are as well as if they’re overbooked and can’t take on more work. This lets you strategically allocate resources as well as prevent burnout by viewing employees’ workload over a set time period. 

6. Stakeholder engagement and management

Stakeholder engagement involves understanding leadership and clients’ expectations. 

It also covers winning their support, understanding their expectations, and generally building trust and relationships with them.

Adequately managing stakeholders’ expectations is essential to project success. In fact, it keeps scope creep at bay and aligns them on project timelines, costs, and anticipated risks. 

When stakeholders aren’t aligned, you’ll see different conflicts arise, eventually impacting your organization’s reputation.

For instance, a lack of alignment of goals can make it challenging to set project priorities and meet the set timeline.

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Create a communication plan to understand, align, and update stakeholders. Decide what questions you’ll ask to learn stakeholder expectations and what channels you’ll use to keep them in the loop. 
  • Visualize your stakeholder engagement plan using a RACI chart. The Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed (RACI) chart lets you determine which stakeholders are involved, what they’re responsible for, and their level of involvement. Based on this, you can decide which stakeholders to update and when.  

7. Technology and tools integration

Without the right integrations, project progress slows down as it adds repetitive work on employees that can easily be automated.

It also means employees would increasingly be switching between tabs — preventing them from being their most productive selves.

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Use tools that seamlessly integrate with your tech stack. Pay attention to a new tool’s integrations as you explore it before making an investment.

8. Change management and adaptability

Change is essential for keeping up with trends shaping your industry and maintaining your competitive edge. It helps you predict changing customer needs and offer services accordingly.

No organization wants to become irrelevant by staying in the same place forever.

For example, Microsoft’s growth stalled when their siloed teams started competing with each other. Only a massive team restructuring helped the tech giant survive.  

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Adopt a ‘change is slow’ mindset and create a change schedule. Make sure you add buffer time to your schedule but largely, aim to stick with it for successful change implementation.
  • Regularly review internal processes, client satisfaction levels, business pipeline, and prevailing industry trends. Doing so lets you identify limitations in your business processes and profits, helping you determine when a change is due.
  • Keep employees in the loop from the get-go. This assists in reducing resistance to change and encourages employees to follow the change process.

Dig deeper into how to manage organizational change

9. Monitoring and progress tracking

Lack of visibility into projects in the pipeline often makes it challenging to track progress. After all, you can’t measure what you can’t review.

However, project monitoring is key to process success. In fact, it helps you: 

  • Stay on top of internal and external project timelines
  • Track what milestones you’ve hit and update stakeholders 

In turn, this ensures you never compromise on the deliverables’ quality and, with it, your organization’s reputation in the long haul.

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Make sure you commit enough time to project planning. Break down projects by phases and tasks so nothing gets missed.
  • Use a project planner that gives a complete overview of everything in your pipeline. We might be biased, but Runn helps manage resources as well as plan projects in one software. This makes resource allocation, capacity forecasting, project scheduling, and milestone tracking a breeze.

10. Balancing quality and speed

Quality defines your reputation. But scaling quality is not an easy feat especially as speed compromises quality.

Left unbalanced, the quality and speed tug of war can keep projects from moving at a reasonable pace — a growing risk of burnout and inaccurate capacity planning.

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Create processes for everything. For example, client onboarding and risk identification process. It’s also useful to create quality control checklists to ensure all project tasks meet the set quality standards.
  • Strategically forecast your project pipeline to manage speed and quality. This saves you from overbooking yourself.
  • Take seasonal workload into account when planning capacity. During the seasons you see lots of business, onboard trusted contractors to delegate work when your internal team’s workload is full. Here’s more on workload management.

11. Client expectations and satisfaction

Happy clients grow word of mouth and bring in referrals. 

Businesses that are in the market for the long haul know that they can’t compromise with client satisfaction at any stage of the project lifecycle.

How to deal with this project management challenge: 

  • Define a process to manage client expectations. Make sure this process addresses important questions like how you’ll onboard clients for a delightful experience, how regularly you’ll update them, how you’ll prioritize transparency, and what’ll you need from them at the start and throughout the project. 
  • Use a CRM to track updates and satisfaction levels.  Track everything from when you updated them last, their rating/review, and so on. 

12. Leadership and decision-making dilemmas

Slow leadership decision-making slows project progress. 

It also takes a toll on team motivation and employee engagement levels — specifically as decision-makers show their lack of trust for their staff in making smaller decisions.

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Regularly take decision-making coaching. This will help you better define problems, understand what data to look at when making decisions, and who to involve in the process.
  • Let go of micromanagement and allow your team to make decisions. This reduces work on your plate, inspires team confidence, and builds a trust-based work culture.

13. Committing to continuous improvement

Yet another project management challenge is not taking the time to reflect on a project’s success. 

However, doing so only births project constraints — negatively impacting progress and your processes in the long haul.

How to deal with this project management challenge: 

  • Pre-schedule time for post-project reflection sessions. For longer projects, host progress retros to discuss how things are going, what struggles the team is facing, and what can be improved.
  • Document learnings. Specify how you’ll implement the lessons you’ve learned and by when. Otherwise, you’ll end up delaying and never implementing the needed changes in time.

14. Cross-functional challenges

Lack of cross-departmental collaboration leaves room for misunderstandings, conflicting priorities, and confusion. Ultimately, it impacts work quality, preventing you from creating a thriving company culture.  

How to deal with this project management challenge: 

  • Establish cross-functional communication channels. Determine which channel employees will use to collaborate and how regularly they’ll meet to establish clear expectations, roles, and accountabilities. 

Dive deeper: Here’s Everything You Must Know For Managing a Cross-functional Team

15. Budget management

Estimating project costs and resources can be challenging, especially as you jump between managing different projects.

Tracking and forecasting expenses add more work — playing a detrimental role in keeping scope creep in check. 

How to deal with this project management challenge:

  • Learn from past projects. As you reflect on what went well in your project retro meetings, document your financial learnings too. Use them to guide budget management for new projects. 
  • Track project expenses to adequately manage the budget. Keep tabs on the budget you’ve spent and the budget remaining to make sure you don’t go over the set costs. In Runn, you can also track expenses based on billable hours your team has worked. 

Want to be ready to deal with unforeseen project management challenges? Commit time to project and resource planning. Most problems arise when either of these two foundations of project management are lacking.

The good news: a resource management software like Runn can help you with not just resource allocation and utilization but also project budgeting, milestone tracking, and capacity forecasting.

Take Runn for a spin and see for yourself 🙌

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