Chapter 5: How to overcome the top 6 project management challenges

Project managers of all levels of experience face common issues. In this section, we’ll give you information about the top 6 challenges in project management, and actionable tips to overcome them.

Poor communication

Poor communication can derail a project. Failure to check in regularly, make decisions as a team, and keep stakeholders in the loop can lead to decreased productivity, breakdowns in processes, and strained relationships.

Overcome communication issues and ensure your project stays on track with the following tips:

  • Schedule regular check-ins with individual members, the entire project team, and stakeholders. You may decide to meet daily or weekly, but setting a standard cadence will provide structure to keep communication contained, organized, and useful.
  • Create norms for how you will communicate. Think about which platform(s) are most useful for different  types of communication (for example, when email might be more appropriate than a video meeting). Choose a few reliable tools, and stick to them to avoid confusion or redundant conversations.
  • Encourage a culture of constructive feedback among team members.
  • Invest in tools that support team communication, such as messaging or video conferencing apps. Keep in mind that you will likely need both synchronous (real-time interaction) and asynchronous communication tools, especially if your team is distributed. Learn more in our complete guide to team communication tools.

For more tips on how to effectively collaborate with your team, read Chapter 6.

Scope creep

Scope creep is the tendency for project requirements to shift during project execution, causing delays and overrun budgets. Scope creep is extremely common, but if you create a flexible project plan, it doesn’t have to completely derail your project.

Examples of scope creep include stakeholders who request an additional deliverable or a project team that adds in another review cycle. 

Deal with scope creep by doing the following:

  • Be proactive and anticipate change when creating the project plan. Build in “buffer” time and budget so you have the resources to respond when changes occur.
  • Regularly review project progress. Agile project management methods like Scrum build in review cycles so you can pivot direction and re-allocate resources as necessary.
  • Get clear on your priorities and stick to them. You don’t need to say “yes” to every single change request that comes in. Hold your ground if project scope starts spiraling out of control, and offer to add items to a backlog for future efforts.

Unclear goals and expectations

In order to complete any project, you need to be clear about what you want to accomplish. With ambiguous or unclear project goals, you run into issues prioritizing tasks and allocating resources.

To ensure the project team and stakeholders are aligned on project goals, do the following:

  • Clearly identify your goals, in writing, before you start the project. As part of this, you should understand how the vision of your project fits in with larger company goals, and ensure all parties are on the same page.
  • Create SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) so that you aren’t working towards a moving target. Learn how to write SMART goals in our guide.
  • Review your work at each key milestone. This will help you maintain the quality of your work and catch any issues before it’s too late.

Unrealistic deadlines and budget

Being too ambitious can lead teams to underperform, whether by turning in projects late, overrunning the budget, or delivering unfinished or poor quality products. 

Avoid falling into this pattern by doing the following:

  • Spend time during the planning phase thinking through project needs, and how to best schedule and budget for them. To do so, break down the project into smaller tasks, plot them out on a timeline, and estimate their cost to determine totals.
  • Use past projects to inform how long tasks will take, and how expensive each task will be.
  • Leverage a project management tool that allows you to input deadlines, resources, and budget, so you can easily see when you are veering off course.

Ineffective resource management

Projects often fail because team members lack the specific knowledge or bandwidth to take on their assigned role. When people don’t have the skills or time to tackle project requirements, work quality and timelines suffer.

Here are some things you can do to ensure your team is equipped to take on the project:

  • Know your people’s skillsets. Project managers should understand who has what skills, and build a team that can confidently execute. 
  • Understand which project requirements require specialized knowledge, and find an appropriate team member to own each.
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities at the onset. To do so, consider creating a RACI matrix to define who is responsible, accountable, should be consulted, and informed on each task. When people know what’s expected of them, they can better manage their time and deliver.
  • Check in on your team over the course of the project. Remain flexible and shift resources  around, or bring in more help, if necessary.

To learn more about building a strong project team, read Chapter 6.

Lack of accountability

A project succeeds when every member of the team takes responsibility for their role. Without accountability, projects underperform, team members lose motivation, and trust is lost.

Build an accountable team by doing the following:

  • Model accountability. Project managers set the tone for the rest of the team, so lead by example and own your responsibilities.
  • Trust your team. Rather than micromanaging, ensure team members understand expectations, offer support throughout, and motivate people to produce on-time, quality work.
  • Find a tool that provides visibility into task status so everyone has a clear view into project progress. If projects fall behind, work together to identify problems or bottlenecks and make changes.

To learn more about finding the right project management tool, read Chapter 9.