Problems, problems, problems!

Recently, our class participated in an exercise that required teamwork, planning, creativity, quick decision-making, and cost control. We had time constraints and a clear mission to build a sturdy, tall tower with spaghetti and marshmallows that could hold 75 papers for one minute, without falling down. There were different teams, each with the same goal and each with access to the same materials. Results were analyzed, tallied, and discussed. It was interesting to see the variance in approaches by different teams and how skill sets of team members impacted results. Each team was given the same instructions, access to the same materials, and had the same time constraints, yet different approaches and results were evident.

This made me wonder about the general process of Project Management (PM). Assuming you have similar projects and work conditions, are challenges in Project Management also similar? If challenges are common and we master them, then could we become “black belt” Project Managers? Are there common challenges? I did some research and surprisingly, it depends on who you ask! In your experience, are the PM problems listed below common at your company? Would you rank them in the same way?

Top ranking PM issues vary, possibly depending on the industry or function. For example, in the IT/IS field, Jennifer Lonoff Schiff listed her Top 12 common Project Management mistakes in the CIO journal from 9/26/2012. Her top Project Management mistake is not appointing the right person to be PM. Too often the company selects the PM who is available, not necessarily best suited for that project. Schiff cites the next top mistake as failing to get member support. To avoid this mistake, PMs should make member roles clear, describe personal benefit of the project’s success, and how much each person’s contributions will be evaluated. Not getting Executive buy-in is the third most common PM mistake and she found having too many projects put into production at the same time, and a lack of regular communications or meetings as the fourth and fifth most common. Other remaining PM problems from her research are: scope is vague; timelines are overly optimistic; not being flexible; no system to approve and track changes; micromanaging; software expectations are too high; and no metric to define success.

The Harvard Business Review Guide to Project Management, on page 22, (Harvard Business Press, 2013) describes the four biggest problems facing PM as:
1. Time slippage – falling behind schedule
2. Scope creep
3. Quality
4. People problems – recognized as often the most difficult – suggested to avoid or handle early and with frequent communication with each team member.

Similarly, Villanova University summarized challenges in Top 10 Project Management Challenges by University Alliance. I’ve listed them below and you’ll find there are some redundancies and some unique ones.
1. Undefined goals
2. Scope changes
3. Inadequate skills (handle this challenge with training, outsourcing, or by hiring additional staff)
4. Lack of accountability (each team member is responsible and accountable; the PM shines when the team is one unit)
5. Dealing with risk
6. Ambiguous contingency plans ( to avoid this problem, pre-define “what if” scenarios)
7. Poor communication
8. Impossible deadlines
9. Resource deprivation
10. Lack of stakeholder engagement

Is there a common PM problem in your company or industry that wasn’t listed? How would you rank common PM problems?

3 thoughts on “Problems, problems, problems!

  1. Your “Project Management Challenges” listing made me reflect on the projects that I was a part of and I couldn’t help but check it against all of the unsuccessful (or semi-successful) projects I was a part of. . Your third bullet on the Villanova University listing talks about inadequate skills. I think that’s where I would classify “poor management style” or “lack of project management experience” on this list. Otherwise, I think this listing is pretty accurate and complete. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Good post. Very timely as well. I like that you presented a few lists as examples, since redundancies are apparent. I agree with Iwona that inadequate skills relating to project management is near the top of the list. Although, the most common and consistent PM problem that I notice is poor communication. Communication is key and poor communication is hard to overcome.

  3. I feel like another big PMO problem at my company is Earned Value (EV). So basically we look at the schedule, cost and how much work is actually getting done. So sometimes we may be on schedule but over cost or vice versa. It isn’t always about schedule and cost it is also about how much work is getting done for that schedule and that cost. As the analyst I do that analysis. It is crucial because we could only be slightly behind schedule and we may think we aren’t that bad or may catch up… my EV analysis looks at trending in the EV and can detect if that variance is going to get worse or better. Depending on the industry or the tools you have in place, EV I feel is just as if not more important than looking at just cost and schedule. Performance is key.

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