Difficult To Be A Project Manager: Real PM Experience
People think that being a PM might be easy; you just run around and tell others what to do. But that is only one side of the story, and there is a challenging side of the role. PMs have to face many complexities and difficulties in the work environment. Today we are going to explore a topic a bit more.
Being a Project Manager is demanding as there are a lot of elements that need to fall into place to succeed. You often deal with complex managers’ expectations, the stress of ever-looming deadlines, skills gaps in the team, tendency to see your budgets cut or increase project costs, to name a few.
This article will talk about the most common difficulties a project manager faces. If you are considering taking up the managerial position of a project, then pre-preparing for these challenges can certainly provide you with an advantage.
But, before that, let us briefly discuss what the primary responsibilities of a project manager are. So, without further ado, let’s get right into it.
Who Is A Project Manager?
Project managers are responsible for planning, executing, managing, and completing a project. They have to balance time, money, resources, and people if they want to achieve their objectives. Plus, the success or failure of a project depends on the leadership skills of a project manager.
Here are some of the most important responsibilities of a project manager:
- Setting precise long term and short term goals for the project
- Defining the scope creep of the project
- Time management
- Maintaining deadlines
- Calculating project costs and sticking to the budget
- Managing and distributing resources
- Monitoring the progress of the project
- Calculating and managing risks
- Solving problems
- Maintaining communication with stakeholders and team members
- Quality checking
- Identifying needs of human resource
- Reviewing the project before closing
Apart from these typical roles, a project manager handles any ad-hoc responsibilities that arise during work on the project. For example, there are issues with some vendors who suppose to deliver part of the deliveries like server installation.
Furthermore, PMs must be able to guide the team through all the challenges that come up. They cannot execute the project by themselves, and it is crucial to make sure all the team members perform their duties without any problems and cooperate to solve problems.
10 Difficulties Project Managers Face
Project management is a challenging job. It requires the manager to take on many roles, like being a leader, team manager, and project coordinator. They have to be able to adapt to the situation and keep up with tasks as well as deadlines.
Both new and experienced project managers can go through these difficulties. Still, you can overcome these hardships by understanding them and applying your leadership, planning and communication skills.
Here are some of the most common challenges that managers face in their day-to-day work:
1. Lack Of Clear Goals And Objectives In A Project
The first challenge any project manager will face is identifying clear goals and objectives. When a project manager cannot agree on its primary purpose with senior stakeholders, or it is not clear, he/she cannot explain it to their team members or manage efforts appropriately.
Not persisting in identifying and confirming project goals at the initial stage is often the main reason for project failure. Senior stakeholders could be vague or have unrealistic expectations of what the project can achieve. Without knowing the project’s main objectives, your team members will not know how to work on the project, and the performance will also suffer.
Besides, the project manager will not be able to calculate the cost or set a budget. They cannot even allocate the resources without knowing clear goals, and there will be chaos without direction.
What To Do To Clarify Goals and Objectives?
When you get the project, your first step is to identify the goals and objectives. It would be best to talk with your stakeholders to understand what they want from the project—preparing a list of questions for a smoother conversation.
When senior stakeholders advise you about the goal, repeat it back as a summary to ensure you are on the same page. Then arrange a meeting, explain the goals to your team members, and use them in planning or kick-off meetings.
It would help if you aimed to define objectives to follow the SMART approach. It stands for:
Follow this approach to define the goals and objectives of the project. If any part of the objective does not follow the SMART method, try to clarify. You can set smaller goals and assign them to each team member.
2. Scope Creep in Project Management
Scope Creep is another nightmare that can happen after the project starts with a specific scope and goal in mind. It refers to the unplanned change of essential aspects of the project. Your clients or senior stakeholders may suddenly have some genius idea and ask you to make some changes to the original plan you initially proposed.
For example, a client may have agreed to the building plans at the beginning of a project. But suddenly, they want to add another floor or room to the building. Or maybe you are creating an app, and the client wants to add new features to the original design.
Scope creep is a common challenge project managers have to handle. Changing the plan also means adjusting the budget and resources.
What to Do to Avoid Scope Creep?
Scope Creep is difficult to avoid. You may have to make significant changes to the project, no matter how carefully you plan them. However, you can manage scope creep by involving the clients in decision-making and having a proper change management process.
Clients or senior stakeholders often have a vague idea of what they really want. You can help them shorten their priorities before the project begins. Let them know how you will use resources and money for the project to achieve the most valuable goals.
If the situation is where the additional scope is not avoidable, follow the change management process, evaluate the effect on project constraints and seek client or senior stakeholders’ approval for proposed changes to the budget, time, risks, resources or quality.
Check out my post on the topic: WHAT ARE PROJECT CONSTRAINTS? SIX YOU NEED TO KNOW.
3. Budget Constraints in Projects
Sometimes clients want their projects to be done on a minimal budget. On top of that, scope creep or other shifts in project constraints can put even more strain on budget planning.
The project manager is responsible for completing the project within budget. Asking for an increase in the budget in the middle of the project indicates a lack of competence, and trust me, this is stressful.
Furthermore, business managers do not like increasing costs. Sometimes the whole budget topic can be even overwhelming with no options in sight whenever rising costs put your project on hold, or you need to cancel it. Thus, budget constraints are a huge challenge for managers.
What to Do to address Budget Constraints?
A project manager must understand what resources they need to complete the project and assemble a budget accordingly. You also have to leave some buffer for some anticipated scope changes that may affect the project’s cost. After all the cost calculations, you can propose a budget to your client or senior stakeholders.
An efficient project manager knows how important it is to stick to the budget to complete a project. You can use a project management tool to plan the budget. If possible, share with your sponsor and the team for input. Then, make the approved plan available to senior stakeholders and the team.
If you are in trouble with your budget, maybe my previous two posts can help you to get out of the tricky situation:
- WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A PROJECT GOES OVER BUDGET? PREVENT IT
- WHAT TO DO WHEN A PROJECT IS OVER BUDGET? FIX IT
4. Resource Management Issues in Project Management
Proper resource planning, management, and distribution are crucial for any project. Managing the resources becomes even more difficult if a minimal budget is allocated as project managers are restricted to using only the available help. Then you end up spending a lot of time prioritising work items.
But even not considering lack of resources, you may face many other problems related, like poor quality of resources, conflict in resource use, inadequate distribution of resources, etc. When you fail to manage resources carefully, it will result in suboptimal project performance and quality.
What to Do to Achieve Optimal Resource Management?
Project managers should know how to do proper resource allocation within the budget. You have to estimate the internal and external resources required before starting the project. Knowing what resources you need beforehand will prevent unnecessary and unplanned costs.
Meet with the available stakeholders early in the project to discuss resource needs. Also, consider likely changes in scope while estimating the budget and leave some room for unknowns. Check if the availability of resources is optimal to achieve the best results for the project.
For example, if you have 10 team members ready to start some work and build some code, you might want to start only with 3 or 5 to try out ways of working and only then include the rest of the team. If you start with 10 it might create chaos and limit productivity.
Finally, you need to negotiate with senior stakeholders what resources you will need to achieve particular goals. Plus, be ready to defend if not all scope can be delivered with what is allocated. Make sure you do your analysis and prep. work.
5. Lack Of Communication in Projects
According to Forbes, poor or lack of communication is one of the leading causes of project failure. Poor communication and miscommunication can be significant problems when multiple teams work on a project. The project manager’s responsibility is to make sure every team member is on the same page and understands the bigger picture and expectations. There could be cultural differences, personality traits, or a lack of structure.
The project could fail when the manager cannot establish productive communication channels with the stakeholders and team members. Moreover, because of miscommunication, conflict can arise among the team members, and you will waste a lot of energy trying to address them. Thus, the project gets delayed.
What to Do to Improve communication?
A project manager should have regular meetings with the stakeholders and team members to discuss the goals and updates of the project. It would help if you encouraged your team members to update each other about their progress so that there are no misunderstandings. Also, keep an eye out and discuss if you have all the proper communication channels open.
You can have face-to-face meetings, Zoom/Team meetings, forums, personal calls etc. Many project managers use management software to monitor the progress of every team member as well. The key is finding the right channel for each stakeholder.
If you like to learn more about stakeholder management, check out this post: HOW DO YOU EFFICIENTLY ACHIEVE GREAT STAKEHOLDER MANAGEMENT?
6. Inadequate Skills Of Team Members In Projects
The success of a project depends not only on the project manager. It also depends on the skills of your team members. Assembling the right people with the right skills for a project is another challenge for the project manager.
Often, project managers make the mistake of assigning tasks to people based on their availability rather than their skills. Sometimes there is just no option; you either try to progress with what you have or close the project. Usually, the business selects the first option.
As a project manager, you can create an environment to work and even improve. But if the team members do not have the skills, the project will face delays or poor quality.
What To Do To Address Skills GAP?
First, you have to learn what skills your team members have. You have to analyse their strengths and weaknesses before assigning them to any project or task. When you have new projects, choose team members who can complete them.
Your team members will need both hard and soft skills to work efficiently. One of your members might be good at IT, but he may not be good at time management.
If any of your team members lack the skills to handle their tasks, arrange training sessions to develop their skills. Always hire sincere people who are ready to learn new skills. My experience shows that younger individuals are usually eager to create their mark on the world. Project managers have to build a robust support system to address any skills GAPs to succeed.
In some cases, if a business or the project does not have people for a particular task, you could look outside into consultants who gained experience in the past. They are usually much more expensive, but they might just be what you need to finish your project.
7. Stress Meeting Deadlines in Project Management
One of the top stress factors for PMs is meeting ever-looming deadlines. Clients and senior stakeholders often pressure project managers to complete a project on very optimistic and challenging timelines. Consequently, the project manager may not withstand pressure and advise deadlines they cannot meet. Over the whole project knowing that you are likely not meeting deadlines can put you under a lot of stress.
Furthermore, out of stress, you might set unrealistic deadlines for the team, which in turn could overheat, become less productive, slow down and put you in a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy. On top of that, your team members will start making mistakes, reducing quality.
Even if you agreed on reasonable timelines based on past experience, not everyone has the same skills and speed to complete tasks, and not all projects are exactly the same. Some tasks need more time or can get more complicated due to unique circumstances. Thus, even if you were more or less correct on your estimates, you might still end up under pressure.
What to Do to Reduce Deadline Stress?
You have to estimate the amount of work the project requires. If you feel the deadline to submit the project seems unrealistic, let the clients or senior stakeholders know immediately. You can ask for more time to prepare a higher-quality estimate. Do not be afraid to negotiate your success and avoid saying “yes” to every demand.
Again, proper communication is required to meet deadlines.
To prepare high-quality estimates, a project manager should know the capabilities of each of the team members. It would help if you determined how much your team members can deliver at a specific time, i.e. throughput.
Furthermore, you can discuss setting deadlines with your team members, who will be more committed to meeting them. The team has expertise in particular tasks and can suggest duration, which will enhance your planning and estimation. Breaking a project down into phases, work packages, actions and milestones (WBS) and estimating them one by one can help you increase the quality of your estimates.
Finally, it would be best to keep a close eye on the progress after starting the project. You should remind your team members to submit their tasks on mutually agreed deadlines. Then review each part of the project and track performance.
Suppose you see that you are still late after keeping a close eye on the project timelines and proactively addressing various roadblocks with the team. In that case, you should not keep that to yourself and escalate to clients and senior management asking for extensions. They will ask you to defend your reasoning for the needed extension, but if you prove that you have done everything in your power to move forward, they should be understanding.
Still, if you need more ideas on making your project move faster, check out my post: HOW TO SPEED UP YOUR PROJECT? PRACTICAL ADVICE.
8. Difficult Stakeholders in Project Management
The stakeholders are people who are impacted or have an interest in the project, such as your client, management and team members. Limited stakeholder engagement and complicated relationships are among the worst problems a project manager can face.
Clients and senior management have their world view of the project and outcomes. You need to comprehend their expectations and understanding to ensure you will be delivering the right thing. Sometimes senior stakeholders think they just need to hire PM, and the job is done; no further engagement is required. He or she will deliver everything. Unfortunately, it does not work just like that. You need to manage stakeholder expectations and get input about project success. If not prioritising stakeholder engagement, you might find the project is not what they wanted it to look like and will blame PM for it.
Furthermore, if your team members do not have buy-in and lack interest in a project, it can be a disaster. You might struggle to follow what the team members do. It will require a lot of micromanagement to see things going. Trust me; nobody likes it.
Finally, there could be that you just have some challenging stakeholders you need to deal with. There might be a specific delivery that requires support from a different department. For them, this is just extra work, and the manager might be disengaged, even somewhat aggressive or very slow to do anything.
What to Do to Address Difficult Stakeholders?
If you do not want to work on a project several times, establish better communication with the stakeholders. Arrange meetings with your clients regularly to update them on the progress of the project.
When they are in the meeting, you have to be sure that they listen to your plans for the project. Ask them for feedback so that you can make changes during the initial phase of the project.
The easiest way to get some problematic stakeholders is to keep them in the dark. So, discussing progress and updating on challenges ensures that they know what is happening.
You can arrange regular meetings with your team members to motivate them to engage with the project. Listen to their concerns and solve their issues. When the team is listened to, they want to help you more as they see their views being considered.
If you arrange a meeting but need to deal with difficult people, you should identify the type of person you are dealing with. In a bit more broader terms, there are three different types of difficult people who could derail your project:
- The toxic person
- The confident person
- The incompetent person
The next step is to understand their needs, situation and how they define success or want to be involved. Once you have this information, you can better manage the situation. You can do this by using a combination of understanding, empathy, and assertiveness.
However, in general, you would like to avoid toxic people, who think that the project is unnecessary or going in the wrong direction. If you cannot avoid them, try to put them on your side by including in some decision-making, listening to their views, and showing how the project will help. So they feel part of the project and reduce their toxic views.
The confident person usually does not like when their judgment is questioned. Thus, if they have a firm hold on the project, try listening to them, understanding their point of view, and finding common ground by looking from their perspective. You might also need some assertiveness; otherwise, they will dominate you and sometimes get the project in the wrong direction.
The incompetent person needs to be identified as soon as possible by keeping a close look at your stakeholders early. You will not be able to manage everyone every time; thus, these individuals might make mistakes and break your project. If the incompetent person is a senior stakeholder, you should, of course, not say it straight. Try directing them the right way with your influence skills and making them feel that the right ideas for the project are theirs.
There is a level of psychology in every project, and you should brush up on theory. If you like to learn more about stakeholder management, check out my post: HOW DO YOU EFFICIENTLY ACHIEVE GREAT STAKEHOLDER MANAGEMENT?
Also, there are some fantastic books which I have recently read, which help me to manage my stakeholders every single day:
9. Poor Risk Management and High Risks in Projects
A project manager’s responsibility is to minimise risks and address issues promptly while working on a project. Unfortunately, all projects have risks related to their deliveries. The same risk in two different companies will have different impacts due to the company’s experience, resources or available project team, to name a few. Thus, the difficulty of your project management will depend on what hand you have been dealt. In some extreme cases, the risk could be so high and impact so huge that the project should be cancelled if the business does not want to take a chance.
Inexperienced project managers may not consider all the risks related to a project or, worse, not have proper risk management in place. As a result, they get confused about what to do when a sudden problem arises during the project, which increases the impact. Also, you will not understand your likelihood of success without understanding your risks.
Suppose the risk was that the project might need an additional external AI system to rate its customers as the current one might not work correctly. If no preparation is done, A PM may not have an emergency budget and resources estimated for the risks beforehand. Hence, they will have to make drastic changes to the overall plan and budget. The project will stop until the problem is solved, which means it will miss the deadline promised to the senior stakeholders.
What to Do to Achieve Great Risk Management?
If you do not want to experience sudden or unwanted risks during projects, thoroughly research the project. Consider all kinds of “What if” scenarios taking into account current business and market situations, and document them. Then prepare possible solutions for each of the supposed risks.
If you like to use some great analysis tools to identify your risks, check out my post about SWOT analysis: HOW TO DO A SWOT ANALYSIS FOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT
As the project manager, you must have the foresight to calculate what can happen and what you should do about a sudden issue. You should be able to use your knowledge from your training days or experience to develop solutions.
You can use risk management tools to have more control or research similar projects to see what you may encounter and how to solve the risks.
Also, if you identify risks, which might be beyond business risk appetite, you need to report them for senior management decisions.
In general, you should not look into risk management as something adminy to do. Risk management enables proactive project management, where you consider alternatives, mitigations, etc., before any issues arise, which will make you an expert project manager in everybody’s eyes.
10. Absence Of Accountability and Ownership in Project Management
When people work on a project together, each of them should be accountable for their own decisions and actions. A project comes to a standstill when there is a lack of accountability or ownership.
Yes, a project manager is the leader of the entire project. But you are not the only one responsible for it. Also, you are often dependent on other departments.
Lack of accountability can arise when team members do not feel associated with the project. They may feel like they are being told what to do. Hence, they do not feel responsible for their actions regarding the project. Then, when you try to micromanage your team, they will not like it, and it will be a poor experience for you and them.
Furthermore, sometimes, business managers do not accept ownership of some dependent deliveries, claiming that this is not their job or that they do not have time. You end up in this stressful and wasteful political discussion trying to agree on their support.
What to Do to Address Accountability and Ownership?
Make your team members feel like they are a critical part of the project. Involve them in decision-making. Allow them to express their opinion about planning, budgeting, setting deadlines, and executing the project.
When your team members engage in the overall planning, they feel they are also accountable and responsible for the project. After that, you do not have to assign responsibilities to your team members and encourage them to complete their tasks independently without your intervention.
If you have an ownership problem with other department managers, you might want to apply some stakeholder management and explain the project’s benefits to them and the organisation. In order to avoid delays, if you know that there will be some dependencies on other managers, you might want to discuss these with them early to prevent surprises later. Refer to the “Difficult Stakeholders” section for further stakeholder management tips.
Conclusion: Why is it difficult to be a Project Manager?
I hope you have learned about the challenges of being a project manager by now. The PM role is fascinating, but it comes with various duties, which ultimately results in difficulties. Therefore, you will need some nerves to make a good manager.
But if you love to solve problems, you will be outstanding, and it is worth considering becoming a project manager. You can learn various skills and techniques to relatively easily overcome challenges and become an expert.
I hope this article gave you some ideas of the complexities you will face as a PM and how you can deal with them. Do not worry; nobody was born a project manager; you can also become one despite the sometimes stressful environment. Actually, these challenges and solving them are what make you great.
Thanks for stopping by, and good luck!
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