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Project management is an often misunderstood discipline, spanning as it does various areas of a business and involves coordinating and marshalling various skills and systems across departments. The project manager is very much the conductor in what can be a cacophony of conflicting interests and squeezed budgets. David Baker explains further.

Suffice to say there are many challenges PMs face when bringing together the various elements of a project. In this article I want to explore six of the most common.

Scope Creep

Scope creep is a term that most project managers will be all too familiar with and arises when the original objectives of the project are altered or extended to include new goals. This is one of the most common challenges project managers will face, as this pressure will come from above and require stretching budgets to go further.

Good project managers must tread the line between a ‘can do’ attitude and a realistic sense of what can be achieved with a finite and pre-defined set of resources. Good diplomatic skills are then needed to communicate how certain requests cannot be achieved without additional budget or risk of compromising other aspects of the project.

Lack of project management training

Project managers require a varied skillset, considerable organisational abilities, along with a people focused approach. They tend to be good managers or both people, resources and systems and will often have a broad operational understanding of the organisation within which they are working.

Of course, at its heart project, management is about imposing structure and systems to achieve a given set of goals. From planning through to implementation and testing, these structures are known as project management methodology and one of the most recognised and practiced of these is the Prince2 methodology and certification. Good project managers may have the requisite skillset but without this formal training in how projects are structured, implemented and managed, they may lack the discipline to keep the project in check and avoid some of the pitfalls mentioned here.

Limited resources

A common problem in project management is a lack of resources assigned to the project. Often this comes about through poor planning and reluctance from senior management to dedicate sufficient resources to a project throughout its lifecycle. Whilst it is beholden on budget holders to devote adequate budget, it is also beholden on project managers to properly assess and define the needs of the project and secure the appropriate resources required to get the job done.

Proper training can equip project managers with a solid project management methodology to apply to the project, imposing the structure needed to properly distribute and manage resources throughout the project lifecycle.

Lack of senior management attention

Sponsorship and buy in from senior management is a key ingredient to project fulfilment and a lack of interest and engagement can derail even the most achievable of projects. Poor senior management engagement is often a problem associated with smaller projects but larger projects can full victim to it too.

Skilled PMs will be able to create enthusiasm and engagement from stakeholders at every level, from team members to clients, vendors and senior management. Only by bringing everyone with you, can you hope to overcome the unforeseen challenges that any project is likely to throw at you.

Inadequate skill mix

Projects can span various cost centres, departments and disciplines, requiring a varied skill mix on the project team to bring distinct functions and areas of the business together. Whilst there is always room for overlap in roles and ongoing training for team members, an inadequate skill mix can signal trouble ahead.

Again, this is especially pertinent in smaller projects, where resources are more limited and teams are smaller, meaning more multi-skilling is needed and PMs often have to get involved with administrative or technical work. In some cases, temporarily bringing in a specialist, or requisitioning internal expertise, may be the best way to go.

Poor risk management and contingency planning

Risk is an essential factor of project management, to be constantly assessed and managed. Good project managers need to be used to the pressures and strains that comes with risk, as it is inherent to even the most carefully planned of projects.

Ambitious projects will often fall over because of a lack of or ambiguous contingency planning. ‘What-if’ scenarios aren’t just hypothetical exercises but a core part of the planning process which should be PM lead. This process requires PMs to get a realistic and comprehensive understanding of all potential pitfalls and how to deal with them should they arise.

About the Author: David Baker has worked within the training industry for many years with Prince2 Training. Working on courses such as PRINCE2, ITIL, PMP, Agile, Scrum, Lean Six Sigma. Prince2 Training delivers world-class accredited training solutions to thousands of organisations and individuals throughout the world. You can connect with Prince 2 Training on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.