Project Management Challenges10 Aug 2016

Is choosing the right management method the biggest challenge of project management? Or is it spotting unreliable or otherwise failing team members? Maybe it's defining a path towards project success? Perhaps there are no challenges at all as PM mainly consists of overseeing other people's work?

Project Management?

The role of a "real-world" project manager mainly consists of the 3 following jobs: project estimation and planning, asset (people) assignment and management and - finally - project coordination.

Project Management Challenges

Estimates: Foreseeing the project needs, scope and completion time:

Many would agree, this is the most complex and therefore tough part of the whole job. You probably know the project goal, but it's likely that this is it. What technical & financial resources will be needed, how many and which people will take part, what obstacles a team will have to overcome - this is, more often than not, an unknown.
It's easy to see why getting an estimate on like-so "defined" project is pure guesswork.

Challenges: The obvious issue here is the number of unknowns - and - quite typically, when working on original projects - no way of foreseeing the data. There only is one advice - start with what you do know, and if this in itself is too little, make research the team's first milestone. Once this is completed, devise a new plan from there on.
And where time estimates are concerned - you can (and surely will) do all that you can to make the time estimate as close to reality as you can, but there will always be an event causing a delay. The best you can do is not make promises on delivery times, nor expect that there will be no delay. There will, and most of the fairly experienced business partners will be prepared for this.

People: Choosing team members suited to cooperate on a project:

This is not a strictly technical question, as in "who has such and such experience and therefore will be an asset while working on X". Of course, it is the most vital part of the matter, but chances are, you have a limited team of people with a more-less defined skill-set, so the very finding of appropriate people for a job should be easy.
The more difficult part of the issue is in matching people in groups, working in which they will be able to communicate easily and cooperate. Relationships between co-workers can be hard to define in project-based environments, due to the ever-changing setup of roles and influence.
Human nature and authority aspects of people management are often under-appreciated. It's easy to spot a good PM, just by seeing how well they read and know the team members and what the team say about them. After all, main part of a project are the people working on it, so one could say project management is mainly people management.

Challenges: If the team have real issues with communication, it's worth spending time, money and making an effort towards an improvement. Either via a training programme or by providing appropriate tools, which will facilitate easier communication.
Also, keep in mind, you are too a human, so your listening to what the team are saying matters just as much as them listening to you (ha-ha!).

&...managing the project:

Meaning - making sure items do get worked on and that this does bring anticipated results in a more-less anticipated time-frame. Whether you take the tyrant or buddy approach towards executing this, be sure to adopt an attitude that will lay well with the team.
Yes, you can be a respected tyrant, just as you can be a less formal, colleague executioner - it just takes time and effort to devise an attitude that will make it possible, and then to stick with it.

Challenges: Once you have a rough estimate of the project, a typical issue you may come across would be the stakeholders changing the requirements mid-project. This causes great waste and throws the entire progress off.
How to avoid it? Well, you can't, not really. But what you can do is make a point of gathering requirements from the client and underline that getting these modified mid-way through the process will cause excess expense and delays unrelated to your performance. This stands a chance of putting them off (making changes).
It's also possible to sometimes refuse large modifications once you have gone far enough into a solution. In those cases - do stay focused on making this refusal as polite as you can. The easiest way is to present a business case against this change. You may also consider applying Scrum to mange the process, as it clearly binds the requirements with the time-frame during which a result should be achieved.

Just one piece of advice

Since it's not possible to quickly learn to work with people well, nor - to read them well - what can be advised to make your PM skills better immediately is to be as detailed as possible when describing a project and as specific as you can while devising jobs for your team members.
The fewer misunderstandings you'll come across along the way, the quicker and more effectively the project will get done. When getting started with a project, it's better to be overly specific than too vague. The more details you give, the less time will be spent on team's thinking and assuming what you meant.
Also, do expect the same approach from the stakeholder providing you with their requirements - this will make both your lives easier.