Top 5 Challenges for Project Managers

Project management is a large part of many government employees’ jobs. GovLoop reached out to members of our online community and surveyed project managers to gain insight into what their projects are like and what hurdles they face. One of our goals is to generate conversation about what the challenges are for project managers and what your personal tips and examples are of how you have overcome these challenges. Without further ado, I bring you the Top 5 Challenges for Project Managers:

1. Time constraints

When asked what their biggest challenge is, the word that kept coming up with project managers was “time.” The time challenges spanned from getting a project done quickly enough, to coordinating schedules, and working within slow processes and regulations. Since projects are often a collaboration, one of the challenges involves finding the “time necessary to formulate partnerships to effect change as a group and garner support.” Others felt that projects could get too long and benefit from being restrained to a certain time frame because there is “too much room for slippage otherwise.”

2. Setting a goal and sticking to it

Project managers reported problems with projects that are both too broadly-defined and too narrowly-defined. This problem centers around a manager’s effectiveness at defining the task. Another problem we saw is that even when a project was defined well, “customer additional requirements seem to be endless for a continuous ‘scope creep’.”

3. Budget limitations

Not surprisingly, budget constraints cropped up in the responses. Most frustrating is “inefficient use of resources (fiscal, human capital).” Another aspect relates to the scope creep problem mentioned above. When a project changes directions, a project may exceed the funding allocation.

4. Poor communication among contributors

Since projects often involve the coordination of many moving parts, it is critical for there to be quick and open communication among all involved parties. A common problem is for the needs of the managers to get lost in translation as the “requirements/design are formally handed off to the developers.” One manager cited that the “requirements need to be very crisp” to avoid this kind of miscommunication.

5. Organization and coordination

The problems of organization and coordination are similar to the communication challenge. Since projects involve many players, they need to stay organized and informed. For example, one respondent cited that the biggest challenge is “getting school boards, school administration, their A/Es all on same page with needs, regulations and laws of NJ.” Another cited organization problems within the agency: “My current organization does not support projects, during large multi-year, multi million $ projects they frequently reorganize and do not communicate these decisions; having dire consequences on projects.”

Can you relate to any of these challenges? Do you have any best practices to share?

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Terri Jones

Great post!

I am interested in the scope creep question. In my own projects, I spent much more time talking to users, long before the official discovery began. Part of that was to do subtle training on the new technology so that their advice and thoughts back to me werebetter because their understanding of what to expect and to ask for improved this way. Also, frankly, it helped with change management and buy-in. These were more informal discussions where folks could really express concerns. In addition, I was worried about being inclusive and felt that small, persistent conversations with front-line users helped that effort and adoption. Of course this work is in direct conflict with the time constraints issue, which is very true. I like to think that the upfront work decreases the “make-up/fix-it” time later but for me, I felt that getting it right for the everyday user was critical and often, the folks in the formal discovery sessions aren’t a good cross-section to create the scope.