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7 Reasons That Keep Project Managers Awake At Night

Top 7 Reasons That Keep Project Managers Awake At Night, Project Management Blog
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Project Managers have an uphill task right from the project initiation till closure phase. They have to deal with a large number of unknowns and moving aspects of a project that keeps them awake at night.

In the simplest of terms – “Project management is all about deliverables that meet the success criteria.”

There are some certain challenges for every project managers, and they have to deal with include but not limited to

  • Meeting the project deadline
  • Keeping the project stakeholders engaged
  • Reporting the right progress & performance metrics
  • Knowing who is working on what
  • Shifting project priorities, scope creep
  • Shuffling between projects
  • Handling resource conflicts
  • Keeping the teams motivated

This is a very high level list where each of these items can present additional conflicting issues for project managers to juggle with.

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Is it their fault entirely? No

Does it have to be this way all the time? No


Problem #1: How to complete the project within the deadline?

Meeting deadlines is a critical success factor for projects. Thus adequate project planning is required right from the beginning.

Project Managers need to account well for task, time and resource estimates.

The Fix:

  • Start with the project breakdown first into multiple milestones, tasks and subtasks
  • Estimate as close to reality as possible based on performance of past similar projects
  • Account for the type, number and skills of the resources required
  • Set clear estimated hours, tasks due date and assignee
  • Provide as much task context as possible in terms of task labels, task types and task linking to reduce dependencies

Problem#2: How to keep the project stakeholders engaged?

Stakeholder expectation management can consume a lot of project managers time. There are multiple stakeholders to attend to and many times with conflicting interests in the project.

Some may have a major say while others not so much. But any unsatisfied stakeholder can impact your project adversely.

Maintaining meaningful relationships with your customers, project sponsor and the stakeholders is a key requisite of successful project management.

The Fix:

  • First & foremost understand the communication requirements of your stakeholders
  • Build a strong communication plan, review and get it approved
  • Define the communication medium, frequency and information that will be provided
  • Agree on the key project metrics that need to be monitored and shared

There is a caveat though. The stakeholder don’t show their interest to join daily affairs of the project. Some may only want updates on key milestones, their schedule and performance.

At the same time the business sponsor would be keenly looking for the project expenses and budget performance metrics.

Hence, accommodating all such requirements at the beginning of the project will lead to streamlined stakeholder expectation management and keep them invested in the project.

Problem#3: How to report on the agreed project performance metrics?

It is good that the reporting requirements are sorted. But then you cannot spend your days writing reports. It is just not practical and is open to lots of human errors and delays.

And to make matters worse you may not have all information recorded centrally or covered in a single report. Again not a very ideal approach.

The Fix:

Implement a centralized project management software that offers real-time project reporting.

You must have a project management tool that is capable of providing granular task progress reports to strategic performance views of your portfolio.

Some of the key reports you must be able to access and share in a few clicks must include

  • Task Progress report with overall task status
  • Task Overdue report
  • Actual vs Planned Hours report
  • Billable vs Non-Billable report
  • Reports of Resource Allocation
  • Resource Availability report
  • Resource Utilization report
  • Project Overview dashboard

Having these reports handy in an exportable format can save you a lot of time and stress. Moreover, with the right access and privileges, the stakeholders can access the reports themselves.

Thus, saving a lot of reporting time and efforts.

Problem #4: How to know who is working on what?

Leading a large project or multiple projects at the same time adds a lot of monitoring efforts on the part of a project manager.

You will have dedicated resources, resources spread across multiple projects and resources loaned for specific tasks. All of which are very practical scenarios.

Staying on top of each resource’s task list and task progress is a challenge in itself.

Task priorities are misunderstood, tasks are left out, resources spend more than acceptable hours on tasks, overdue tasks count rises and overall task progress is far from acceptable.

The Fix:

Robust task management practices come to your rescue in the above outlines scenarios.

  • Layout ground rules before starting with task execution
  • Ensure each team member understands his roles and responsibilities
  • Highlight key task dependencies at the beginning of task assignments
  • Conduct daily stand-ups and check-ins to resolve impediments promptly
  • Use Kanban or Scrum boards to monitor task progress throughout the day
  • Refer to resource availability and allocation reports to get a good view of how resources are occupied
  • Define cut-off times for status update reporting if applicable

The key is to implement a self-serving system in place that is not dependent on the project manager’s trigger.

When you can see a week or a month’s view of task vs resource assignments, tasks progress and list of available users on the fly, it’s easy for you to stay on top of critical project activities.

Problem #5: How to prevent scope creep?

Changing Requirements are every project manager’s worst nightmare. Radical scope changes can cost the project entirely. It may turn out to be an opportunity at times, but sadly that isn’t the case always.

A scope change directly impacts the project progress bringing it to a screeching halt.

The immediate effects are

  • Re-doing the project plan to accommodate the change
  • Wait for scope review and approval
  • Multiple back and forth for budget and schedule changes
  • Resource planning goes for a toss as required resources may not be allocated or available

The Fix:

One of the best project management practices is to layout a detailed change management process as part of the project plan.

It is important to cover the following points without fail:

  • Proactively identify any unclear requirements in the scope and agree on how to handle them
  • Define the definition of scope change
  • Layout an approval mechanism for scope changes to be accommodated
  • Clearly state that the required resource and efforts would be billed separately
  • If applicable, set the hourly rates as well
  • Get an agreement that the change of schedule must also be accepted with the scope change
  • Must get the overall change management approved by all key stakeholders

Now, a savvy project managers understands that there would be many on the fly requests of nice to have items and these small requests slowly eat into to the overall project delivery.

Having a well-defined change management process with the right checks and balances ensures scope change requests are not flying on whims and fancies of the stakeholders.

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Also, with the cost part laid out, requestors would be more judicious with what they really need, thereby refining the requirements in the best interests of the project.

Problem #6: How to manage multiple projects together?

Well, with more experience comes more responsibilities. And rightly so.

As you climb up the project management ladder you are bound to step up from projects to programs to an entirely portfolio management.

Basically all your project management challenges just double or quadruple.

Not to worry, see why!!

The Fix:

The rules of engagement remain the same whether you manage one project or a portfolio.

The key lies is getting the fundamentals right.

Be it task management, resource management, reporting, time tracking, stakeholder and communications management you need bring your top game in.

A versatile project management tool with auto-notifications, @mentions, custom reminders, agile project management and extensive resource management capabilities will hold you in good stead.

Project collaboration tools are a powerful means of managing all moving aspects of your projects with ease.

Project managers need to:

  • Pay attention to detail
  • Be alerted of task deadlines
  • Identify idle resources
  • Prevent resource burnout and overload
  • Track project budget
  • Deliver milestones in time
  • Maintain high resource utilization to stay profitable
  • Plan for risk mitigation

Communication and soft skills are also crucial. Hence, timely and meaningful communication along with empathy towards the situation at hand will help us resolve conflicts with ease.

Note, issues and conflicts of varied nature would arise from time to time.

But when you are equipped with all the real-time info be it in terms of statistics or status updates, there isn’t anything that you cannot handle dear Project Manager!

Problem #7: How to handle resource conflicts?

Resource Management majorly falls under 3 categories.

  • Availability of Resource
  • Resource Allocation
  • Utilization of Resource

Each of these feed into each other and a spike in one will impact the other.

And you end up with resource burnout, demotivated team members, delivery delays and at times a state of impasse.

The Fix:

Digital resource management tool equipped with end to end resource planning is a must have.

Having quick answers to following questions at your fingertips is all you need.

  • How many hours have you spent on your tasks today?
  • How many billable hours have you contributed to the project?
  • Does your team complete their tasks within the estimated hours?
  • Do you know the exact billable and non-billable hours for your projects?
  • Do you have the accurate time report ready to share with your clients this very moment?

Working team in projects are weapons for every project managers. If you aren’t able to rally them behind the project goal then you can never deliver the project successfully in given time.

Once, you have fixed the issues w.r.t task assignments, leave planning and milestone delivery scheduling with the team, focus on

  • Answering the WIIFM
  • Show the team how the project will benefit them and their career
  • Help them build relevant skills as the project progresses
  • Provide an open culture where feedback is handled constructively
  • Letting them know that you have their back
  • Transparent information exchange
  • Enable centralized collaboration

For teams to perform at their optimum, real-time collaboration is the much needed oxygen.

When they can communicate and get quick answers, fixes to solutions they remain further engaged and committed to the project goal. Resources are inclined to contribute in more ways than one.

Lingering issues either technical or logistical will sap their energy lead them to a wondering state which basically means inaction or lack of desired action.

And that’s not good.

Also, when teams see the value delivered by their work, productivity rises as they are now invested in seeing the project succeed.

With this achieved, your Mr. Project Manager have succeeded at your role and can go to sleep like a log!

Still not satisfied? Here are some more good reads for you.

Checklist for Successful Project Management

COVID-19 Project Management Tips

Maintain the desired Task Management focus

And before you go, do you have a trusted project management tool in your arsenal yet?

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