7 Ways Project Managers Can Anticipate, Avoid and Mitigate Problems

Big projects consume a lot of resources and time with some spanning over years and costing millions of dollars. However, multiple studies have shown that over half of the projects fail and these failures have devastating consequences to companies in terms of econ cost and employee morale (1).

As a result, it’s important to have a good Project Manager (PM) to oversee a project. One of the strengths of being a good PM is being able to anticipate problems and deal with them timely and effectively when they arise. In the article, “7 Ways Project Managers can Anticipate, Avoid, and Mitigate Problems”, Jennifer Lonoff identifies 7 problems good PMs face and what they do (summarized below) do to anticipate, avoid or mitigate them.

Problem No. 1: Team members not knowing or understanding what their responsibilities are, not owning their part of the project.

Author: Good project managers let team members know, up front, who is responsible for what – and clearly lay out expectations.

My thoughts: I feel that for a project to be successful, it’s important to get a buy in from all the team members. Many times, the directives come from senior management and the members may not be confident in the project. This makes a PM’s job very difficult. I believe a good PM or even a good Functional Manager will find ways to get the team engaged and make them feel that their contributions are valuable to the project.

Problem No. 2: Having key personnel pulled off the project, either temporarily or permanently.

Author: Use a “project management system that provides resource visibility and forecasting tools, so PMs can [quickly make decisions, re-allocate resources and] ultimately reduce schedule thrash. Another way is by convincing management that removing a vital team member could delay the project (or worse).

My thoughts: It’s not unusual to lose key members of a project while the project is still ongoing. While it may be worth the effort to convince senior management that pulling a key member could have adverse effects on your project, it’s mostly futile to try because they have already made the decision and won’t change their mind. As a PM, you are expected to deliver no matter what the obstacles. One way to mitigate this problem could be to cross train team members or have a contingency plan for each team member, which could be time consuming and challenging.

Problem No. 3: Meeting deadlines.

Author: Assign team members specific deadlines for their parts of the project and the dates given are always much earlier than needed. This way if something needs to be fixed, there is plenty of time for changes and another review.

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My thoughts: I agree with the author it could be good to assign an earlier deadline to the team, however, you have to be careful not to make it too early that it puts undue pressure on the team members. In addition, it would be helpful to break the projects into smaller chunks so to manage it better.

Problem No. 4: Scope creep.

Author: A good PM will need to document the change, validate, assess its impacts, find a solution and have the change request approved before executing the solution. A great PM, however, will do proactive risk and quality management throughout; and not just react to changes,

My thoughts: Scope creep is a common with most projects. As a PM, it’s your responsibility to manage scope creep; otherwise, the project can be easily derailed. It’s important for PMs to exert their authority when needed and say no. Any changes to the original scope should be thoroughly evaluated before any decisions are made.

Problem No. 5: Not being aware there is a problem or potential problem.

Author: A successful PM should have standing weekly [or more frequent] status meetings with team members, to check if everything was achieved as per the timeline; what issues, if any, anybody is facing and remove them; and, if required, re-plan certain tasks. Another way is to utilize collaborative task tracking software.

My thoughts: A good PM should be aware of what each team member is working on and have constant communication about status. This can be accomplished with software or by other means. This way, the PM is able to anticipate any potential problems and deal with them promptly and effectively.

Problem No. 6: Managing and collaborating with team members in different locations and time zones.

Author: Using a mobile collaboration tool for communication.

My thoughts: A mobile collaboration tool is very important. Frequent calls with each team member could also be effective to maintain good communication.

Problem No. 7: Lack of communication, or hostility, among team members.

Author: A good project manager checks in regularly with team members, either by phone or in person, to see how things are going – and if there are any professional or personal issues that could affect the project, which need to be addressed.

My thoughts: Unless the team was handed to you, it’s important for a PM to evaluate the members before undertaking a major project. As a PM, it’s important to lay out the expectation before the project begins as far as what the PM expects from the team. In addition to technical skills, respect and cooperation among members should be emphasized. It’s also a good idea to have a plan to deal with conflicts and differences. As a PM, it’s important that you are engaged, fair and trustworthy. This will ensure their trust in you.

I felt that the author has identified some key problems PMs face. I agree with all of them in some capacity. Do you agree with us? Can you think of other problems PMs face and how they can be addressed?

1.  https://hbr.org/2003/09/why-good-projects-fail-anyway


4 thoughts on “7 Ways Project Managers Can Anticipate, Avoid and Mitigate Problems

  1. This was a great article to read as recently I was unfortunate to be a part of what will go down in history as the worst project team. I can pin point the exact time every single one of the problems the article discusses came in during those exhausting three and a half months. Team members did not own up to their responsibilities and passed the blame onto upper management’s decisions and directions for the project. Meeting deadlines was also painful as we had committed to overly ambitious timeframe which off course was at the expense of the team actually doing all of the work. Another problem that occurred during the project was staffing or lack thereof. The project was introduced during the summer with many blind sighted of the request for their participation and planned vacations. By far the worst project team I have ever (and probably will) been a part of.

  2. Thanks Radhesh for sharing this quality article about problems that PM would face and how he or she deals with such problems. I would add Problem no. 8: How to manage a budget for multi million projects? Managing multi million project budget and working to balance and not to exceed the project’s budget is very critical and needs a lot of work and a budget system in place to keep track of budget vs. actual and having the team explain any variances that would take place.

  3. Radhesh, good find on this article! I like the list that the author compiled. For starters, number one talks about defining team members roles and assignments. Making sure everyone is clear on deadlines and expectations. In a perfect scenario that’s what every project manager would wish for, but that’s not always the case. I agree with the author that using a RACI chart is a good start, this at least makes it visible to all team members who is responsible for what. That holds everyone accountable that’s involved in the project. Going forward that’s a tool I would like to implement when leading projects at work.

  4. Great article Radhesh! The focus of this article is on point, using a RACI chart to start the project, and delegate team members to responsibilities. This tool is highly important especially if your new to project management. I wonder if my company uses this method to handle projects. I would like to suggest and implement this method for the pre planning step. Meeting deadlines focusing on who does what is vital, you don’t want to be singled out for something missed in a project.

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