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blog | October 19, 2012

Top Five Most Challenging Things about Managing Projects

By Tony Osterhaus

I recently completed a particularly challenging project. There were several items at the end of the project that did not go according to plan – specifically my project plan.  This meant that deliverables got missed, I had to break that news to the client, the team had to spend many long nights getting back on track and so on.

It was rough, but if you manage projects long enough, it comes with the territory.

Reflecting back on it, I wondered if there was much written about the difficulties of project management.  Turns out there isn’t much out there.

As a professional endeavor, project management is definitely coming into its own. The Project Management Institute is a non-profit professional organization that leads in training and certification of project management skills. But online, most people focus on the best parts of being a project manager.  Next time I’ll throw my hat into that ring, but for now, I’ll focus on my top five worst elements of project management.

No. 5: Preventing scope creep

When you look at a picture of the Triple Constraint it seems very clear that if the scope increases, cost or time will have to change accordingly.  However, that logic does not prevent anyone from trying to slip “minor changes” into the mix.

I applaud the attempt, but I’d also like a tip of the cap to efficient PMs in our agency and in our clients’ organizations, for stopping the attempt rather than trying to cope with the stress and mess of adding multiple shifting priorities to a project already in flight.

No. 4: The meeting scheduling Hokey-Pokey

I generally like interacting with coworkers, colleagues and customers.  That’s a big reason I left the dark room of developers and moved into the project management space.  I generally do not like interacting with people’s calendars and trying to find an open hour among the sea of other meetings.

No. 3: Trying to manage resources for which you have no authority

As hard as it is to tell someone they have to work through the night, it is infinitely harder to hear “No, I don’t work beyond 6,” and not being able to find a solution.  Escalating to the person’s manager is usually effective, but it sure makes working conditions sticky going forward.

No. 2: Making the team work late

Ultimately, there is nothing fun about telling a colleague he or she can’t go home until the project is finished.  It’s doubly tough when that stretches over several days and you know that as a professional services agency, there is no overtime pay.

It does not matter how much someone enjoys his or her job, an 80-hour work week is a beating. It can create burnout and employee turnover, which are not good things.

And here it is.

My No. 1 worst thing about managing projects: Delivering bad news

There is actually quite a bit written about this and it is not specific to project management.  It boils down to this: most humans want to be liked and it is hard to imagine someone liking you if you are delivering the message, “We do not have that widget finished which we told you last week we would.”

Ironically, as much as we want to avoid these situations, it is one of the skills a PM must ensure is honed. Here’s a great recap of the best and worst ways to deliver bad news.

Knowing these elements are part of project management is half the battle.  It’s not always easy to deal with the scenarios above but just like in your projects, if you plan for the worst you will be prepared enough to overcome the worst.