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Top Challenges for a Project Manager

Project management is an interesting area of study for government. On GovLoop, we have lots of great resources for project managers, we even have a great upcoming training for government employees during our Government Innovators Online Summit show on Thursday, here are the details:

Project Management Survival Guide- 3:30-4:30PM EST

Government is becoming more and more projectized. Join us as we help you take a concept and move it from idea to implementation to evaluation. Also, learn how to create a project charter, gain key stakeholder buy-in, and develop an appropriate roadmap with clear scope and key stage gates.

So what are some of the common challenges that we hear about government projects? From the GovLoop community, and my interactions with government employees, here are some of the common themes, with some ideas on how to get around common project roadblocks and pitfalls.

Lack of Resources

Resources can be all sorts of things. Time, staff, money, materials, equipment - government employees are constantly challenged to complete complex projects that are either underfunded, understaffed or not equipped to meet organizational goals.

Tip 1: Assess Resources

Assess everything you have and to the best of your ability, stay on budget. Don’t just do this at the beginning of the project, continually monitor and perform checks to assess resources. Further, work with your team to identify resources, help manage time and allocation, this is especially true for time/labor. In doing so, you will be able to make sure that people have been delegated responsibilities efficiently and allocated appropriately.

Tip 2: Align Resources to Goals

Take the time to map out your resources, build project flow charts, organizational flow charts, and really take the time to understand how your resources can align to stated goals. As you are continually monitoring resources, this is a natural next step after you have assessed resources.

Scope Creep

Sometimes your team is extremely energized and motivated, which is exactly what every project manager wants. But, the team needs to stay on task, and not let the project grow. With tight resources, the scope of a project needs to be well defined, so precious resources are conserved.

Tip 1: Define problem, know what you are trying to achieve

Upfront decide what project you are tasked to solve and specifically what goals you are trying to achieve. In doing so, you will have a tangible goal to reach.

Tip 2: Provide structure to team

As a project manager, be sure to clearly articulate and delegate responsibility to the team. In a perfect project, you’d like to encourage innovative and new ideas that are brought forward to the entire team, and not people working on low value projects.

Tip 3: Get Buy-In

Make sure you have buy-in for the vision from the team, and that all stakeholders are committed to achieve the project goals.

Undefined Vision

Not having a unified vision will lead to challenges for the project. Making sure everyone is motivated to reach common goals and objectives is critical. Without this, teams will grow apart from each other and work on isolated projects. At the end of the project, you need to be able to say you accomplished what you set out to do.

Tip: Feedback early & Empower Team

Allow a time for people to express their opinions and voice concerns and address appropriately. By allowing people to have a voice, and express their opinions, a project manager will empower the individual employee. People are understanding that not every idea, change, or thought will be implemented, but there is a need to be able to voice opposition and work collaboratively to find solutions.

Unrealistic Deadlines

Sometimes project teams are tasked with meeting completely unrealistic deadlines. At the onset of a project, teams need to involve all key stakeholders to make sure deadlines can be met, understand what dates are flexible and what days cannot move.

Tip 1: Engage all stakeholders

Make sure you are talking with the right people, so as dates are set, you know that the people working on the projects had a say in when the deadlines will be.

Tip 2: Know what dates are flexible

Know what the key dates are, and what dates, if missed, will jeopardize the project and risk the credibility of the team. Make sure these dates are well communicated with the team, and as a team, you are constantly communicating needs and addressing where you stand on a project, and if meeting deadlines will be an issue.

Tip 3: Have flexibility as needed

Once you know what deadlines are key, it is important to have some flexibility in your schedule. As long as a key deadline is known and met, other dates will be subject to change and as a project manager, you will have to adapt accordingly.

Communication Gaps

So many government projects involved different stakeholders, departments, and there are a lot of people working on projects. With this being the case, many agencies need to find the right ways to communicate and promote cross-agency collaboration.

Tip 1: Trust your team

Trust is critical, as a project manager, you must trust that your team will produce results.

Tip 2: Set up regular checkpoints

Find a time to meet and talk through your project - strategic and tactical. Having a routine time to meet is always great.

Tip 3: Accept different work styles

People work in different ways, some people are hyper collaborative, others like to reflect on work independently before joining the group. Either way is fine, as a project manager, just be aware that you have set up the right kind of structure for your team to fully leverage the teams skills.

From the tips and the strategies defined, it is clear that the overarching theme is that agencies need to focus on being sure to communicate properly and empower teams towards common goals and initiatives. There are many more ways project managers are challenged, I’d love to hear some of your examples.

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