13 Project Management Challenges And Practical Ways To Solve Them

No project is without challenges. Here's expert advice on how to tackle them.

Graphic illustrating resource article

An executive I work with once told me they knew I was doing a good job because they received fewer complaints. They went on to acknowledge that the hallmark of a good program manager corresponds to the adage—” no news is good news.”

While program managers make it look easy, this doesn’t mean project management is without challenges.

Here are 13 common project management challenges that I’ve faced in my career, plus pro tips for how to handle each one:

1. Unclear project scope / poorly defined requirements

I once worked on a project to define the technical architecture for a large enterprise—and that’s about as detailed as the project scope statement ever got throughout the project life-cycle.

Stakeholders were passionate about the work. Their hearts were in the right place. But because they couldn’t agree on the project goals or deliverables, the scope kept growing, and the project didn’t get off the ground.

Solution: During the project planning phase, allocate sufficient time to translate the high-level vision articulated in the project charter into a work plan and work breakdown structure to avoid scope creep.

2. Schedule constraints

While surveying road conditions in a developing country, the rainy season started earlier than expected, limiting access to key roadways and delaying the project schedule.

Solution: Build buffers into your project schedule to account for unexpected delays. If delays arise, consider fast-tracking the schedule so you can execute multiple work streams in parallel.

While not an option due to the nature of the delay on our road survey project, you can also crash the schedule by adding extra team members to complete the work in a compressed timeframe.

3. Budget constraints

On a construction project, an expensive piece of equipment failed. The good news—we were fortunate enough to locate a backup. The bad news—it came at a high price. We hadn’t counted on paying a daily equipment rental fee as part of our project budget.

Solution: To safeguard against disaster, it’s a good idea to build contingency into your project budget to help cover any unexpected costs. In the case of our equipment failure, the cost, unfortunately, eclipsed our planned contingency. So, we pivoted to cutting costs.

Some strategies for effective cost management include:

  • Make staffing changes to substitute higher for lower-cost resources (cross-training and mentoring can help make this type of change more seamless)
  • Develop more efficient operational workflows to reduce time spent on project execution
  • Monitor hours and dollars closely. Ideally, ask staff to share projected hours with you to avoid surprises when you receive actuals.



Monitor spend based on actual hours worked

Compare scheduled time against actual time to get a true read of project costs and make informed decisions.

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4. Team members do not have the skill sets required to execute the work

I led a data collection and analysis engagement that required engineering expertise to calculate and interpret the results of an assessment. The team members assigned to work on the project were entry-level staff that lacked the requisite education and experience to execute the work.

Solution: As the project manager, ensure you thoroughly understand the project scope and the deliverables the client expects to see. Consult with project stakeholders, subject matter experts, and previous project managers to verify the staff selection process.

If that’s not possible, or you join an engagement later in the project life-cycle as I did, be prepared to work your network if you need to make a staffing change to accommodate evolving project needs.


Pro tip

Use the people tags in Float to ensure you always assign the best team to the job. Tags help you to identify and track individual skills and talents within your team before you start your project.


5. Team members are underperforming, compromising work quality

Many project managers are familiar with being the “fixer”—someone brought in at the last minute to turn around a failed or failing project. I once inherited a portfolio of three research studies that were running behind schedule and over budget, largely due to a key team member that was underperforming.

Solution: Since our client was already disappointed with our progress and project health was at stake, I quickly gained leadership buy-in to substitute this team member for someone else rather than coach them through their performance challenges on this particular engagement.

In most cases, I’d opt for coaching someone who is underperforming. In the short term, this involves documenting the issues using specific examples and sharing the feedback with the team member directly. In some cases, they may not be aware of a performance issue if no one has mentioned it to them before.

In the long term, if you don’t see signs of improvement, you’ll want to engage HR to help that person find an alternative assignment (either internal or external) that better aligns with their skill set and desired career goals.

6. Team members are not co-located and may even work in disparate time zones

I once led a technology project in which team members were split between New York and Singapore. Team members were not collocated at either location, and the time zone difference complicated synchronous communication.

Solution: Asynchronous communication is your best friend when working in hybrid or remote settings.

On the technology project I managed, we limited ourselves to one synchronous gathering per week (highly structured with a clear meeting agenda and desired outcomes.) We relied on extensive project documentation and enterprise project management software to guide our efforts the rest of the time.

This project wound up being one of the easiest ones I’ve ever had to manage, because we were forced to be highly disciplined and thoughtful in our communications. (The end product was great, too! 😀)


Pro tip

If you work in a distributed team, you can customize individual team members’ working hours and days in Float. This helps you allocate work based on real capacity.


7. Poor risk management

I led a software implementation project that ignored one of the biggest risks of the entire effort—that end users would be unwilling to adopt the system. Our clients failed to take action on the potential risk we identified by refusing to budget for change management. The risk was realized, and the project was unsuccessful.

Solution: During the project planning phase, it’s critical to document the potential risks that you foresee, including the probability that these risks will be realized, their severity if they do materialize, and your action plan for dealing with them. This includes preventive efforts so the risk doesn’t occur in the first place.

8. Lack of performance metrics makes it difficult to quantify progress

While managing a large team of analysts and engineers on an analytics platform, we were increasingly having difficulty keeping up with a growing influx of client requests. But, since we didn’t have data to prove that we were too busy to take on new work, our clients continued to pepper us.

Our business was growing, which was great, but team members were in danger of burning out.

Solution: We analyzed existing (albeit incomplete) issue tracking data to understand our baseline throughput. To improve efficiency and minimize context switching, we organized the team into small squads based on skill set and the type of work they were tackling.

Then, we came up with a simple system of classifying future work and explained our rationale for the extra documentation, so teams would be motivated to log tickets. We used this information to continue to improve our operating model over time.

9. Lack of executive sponsorship

A mid-level manager at a large organization I worked wanted to adopt digital engineering practices and presented a detailed business case and operational plan for how to implement this change.

Unfortunately, their boss’s boss was apathetic (at best.) The executive did not review communications, attend meetings, or champion the project with affected employees. During the next budget review cycle, the project got cut.

Solution: Without executive buy-in, it’s unlikely that a project will succeed. In addition to preparing project planning materials, make sure that your project has a dedicated (and committed!) executive sponsor before undertaking the work.

10. Stakeholders experience interpersonal conflicts

When scaling operational processes on a fast-growing analytics project, I encountered two stakeholders who did everything in their power to ignore each other. We could get by with implementing disparate business processes across the project for a while, but eventually, we needed to unify our practices to grow.

Instead of addressing the conflict head-on, I took too long to diagnose and expose the root cause of the issue. We were unable to deploy a unified set of business processes until we came to a resolution, delaying the project.

Solution: As a project manager, your role is to foster alignment and accountability. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. Escalate issues if you need extra help.

11. Lack of access to or participation from key stakeholders

A client once asked me to lead a politically sensitive study examining the lessons learned from a failed project.

While my team received access to the requisite stakeholders and materials to conduct the study, it could have easily gone the other way—my team could have been shielded from essential data that biased project outcomes.

Solution: As the project manager, it is important to verify that you will have access to the resources you need to be able to complete the project successfully. This includes people, materials, and information. Document these assumptions in your project plan so you have something to reference if you run into any roadblocks.

12. Lack of accountability for project outcomes

A long-time client of mine was ambitious and driven in their desire to tackle meaningful projects that would make a difference within their organization. Unfortunately, they struggled with making decisions. Consequently, their projects stalled.

Solution: Accountability is a key component of project management. Make sure that your projects include a clear decision-maker who is empowered and willing to make decisions to drive momentum. Simplify the decision-making process by clearly summarizing the pros and cons.

13. Difficulty in managing stakeholder expectations

Stakeholders on a technology upgrade project assumed that the new version of their facilities management software would solve their business problems.

They thought that all they had to do was buy an out-of-the-box solution. They didn't consider the need to tailor requirements to the needs of different stakeholders within the organization and how much time that would take. They also didn't consider the change management implications once implemented—i.e., training and whether users would adopt the software and the associated new business practices.

Solution: Stakeholder management is one of a project manager’s key responsibilities. As part of project planning, be sure to clearly articulate project goals, scope (including what’s in and out of scope), and intended outcomes.

Develop and execute a communications plan to explain the project’s intended value to users.



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