My big five that come to mind so far are:
Financial management/budgeting. Managing the budget is a huge challenge for Project Managers – especially on large, long-term engagements where unchecked slow scope creep can eat through a budget almost undetected. That’s when you find yourself three months from go-live with no money left in the budget. Try telling a customer that you need more money and see how that sits with them. I’ve had to – and I WAS monitoring the budget closely. It was with a very large government agency and they were not happy. As the PM, the best thing you can do is ensure that the budget is closely monitored, that it is in the project team’s and the customer’s faces at every status meeting either as part of the weekly status report and meeting discussion or as a separate weekly report (I had one customer executive sponsor who did not want the rest of his team to see the project budget details for whatever reason.)
Unrealistic schedule expectations. This can sometimes be another pitfall of the lack of PM involvement in the sales process. Many customer expectations are set during the sale and usually an initial project schedule is drawn up and included in the sales documents. I personally walked into an engagement with a major airline after sales had promised them a 90-day implementation. It was apparent during the first two hours of the kickoff meeting that we were up against an impossible task as the customer had not properly defined requirements or business processes in order to make that 90-day promise possible. But they had submitted a global PR statement to the airline industry announcing the project and the 90-day timeline. Once requirements were properly defined, the engagement began and was successfully implemented – approximately 180 days later. Over budget and outside the timeline – so my delivery team took most of the hit.
Lack of PM involvement during the sales process. I’ve not hidden the fact in any of my posts that this is critical in my opinion. I’ve witnessed first-hand what this can do to the project delivery team going into an IT engagement. Customer expectations are sometimes set too high or are dangerously out of alignment with where the delivery team can go on the solution implementation. Believe me, it’s never fun heading into a project kickoff meeting being forced to already worry about damage control before the engagement as even begun.
Renegade team members. There are very talented individuals in nearly every organization. Sometimes we’re lucky enough as Project Managers to get the very best on our team. But sometimes that comes with a price. When you have a very talented developer, for example, working on your project it can sometimes be hard to rein that person in. In their minds, they know what’s best for the client, they know what technology to use and they know they can do it now and fast. What they aren’t paying attention to is the budget, the process, the documentation, the agreed upon milestones, etc. This is far more likely to happen on a smaller project where one developer runs the application development for the entire project and knows what needs to be done. But as the Project Manager, the challenge is ours to keep them focused on the project schedule, the milestones and deliverables that have been agreed to, and the testing and documentation processes necessary to ensure success and maintainability.
Resource availability. Good resources are sometimes hard to come by. They’re even harder to come by if your project is not quite as visible as the next project that just started, but you have a great resource that is wanted by the other project. Face it, you’re going to have to bow to executive direction to put that key resource on the more visible project and you’re also going to be the one to explain that to your current client and spend the extra time to onboard a new project member. Make the best of it – negotiate additional time for the departing resource to ‘mentor’ the new team member on the project for a few weeks and to remain on the weekly project meetings/calls for awhile to let the customer know you’re not dropping the ball on them. A smooth transition rather than a sudden one will site much better with the customer and your executive leadership will usually agree with that approach.
Summary / call for input
That’s my list. At least that’s my list for today. I really have about 15 or 20 more tucked away that I’ll write about another time. How about our readers? What are some of the key challenges you’ve faced on your projects? What do you consider to be major challenges that project managers often face on their projects that threaten project success?