Things rarely stay calm for long for project managers, with unexpected issues arising at the worst possible times. Despite meticulous planning and strict monitoring of all activities, it’s not possible to predict every challenging situation that could happen in real life.
While challenges of all kinds can be expected, in vast majority of cases there are solutions available to reduce or completely eliminate their negative impact on the project outcomes. If team leaders identify the source of problems early and decisively apply the appropriate counter-measures, it’s usually possible to salvage the project and continue to the finish line without major delays or financial losses.
It may not be possible to list all the things that could cause managers to lose sleep or proscribe ready-made fixes for each and every issue, but it’s sensible to learn about problems that most frequently prevent teams from reaching their full potential. We tried to present the 10 most significant issues as well as some well-known solutions for them.
Almost every team has limited financial means on its disposal and must take money into consideration when deciding how to approach project activities. When the money is tight, companies might have to make tough choices that affect worker satisfaction as well as the quality of the delivered product.
Cutting all non-essential expenses and replacing external services with in-house alternatives can significantly reduce the financial pressure. Key activities that directly contribute to the profitability of the project can still be well-funded, but must be conducted accountably. In extreme cases, reducing the size of the team could be the only possibility.
Short deadlines put project managers in a dilemma – pushing for a faster delivery could jeopardize quality and aggravate the workers, but moving too slowly presents a risk of late delivery. It takes a lot of skill and deep understanding of the work process to strike a good balance between those extremes.
Introducing internal milestones and progress checks allows managers to get a better idea whether the project is still on schedule. Any critical tasks that are completed even a day late could derail the whole timeline, so they need to be identified in advance and prioritized during the planning stage.
Even the best constructed teams encounter issues they are poorly equipped to solve. Modern business environment requires a high degree of specialization, and teams that miss an important skill are at a big disadvantage, especially if it’s not immediately possible to plug this hole with a new hire.
Incentivizing some of the existing workers to develop new skills might be the most elegant way to gain critical expertise in the long term. If the company pays for training programs and offers a salary boost for their successful completion, employees will likely volunteer to take up this opportunity.
Individual contributors might be doing their jobs well, but unless their activities are carefully coordinated the project could still run into trouble. Absence of team-wide communication could lead to duplicated work, skipped tasks, interpersonal conflicts, poor working discipline, and an array of other unnecessary difficulties.
Using a centralized software platform to keep the entire team on the same page is the default remedy for any problems with team collaboration. These platforms are very flexible, and can be customized to support projects of any complexity level. Since all communications are documented, it becomes impossible to ignore instructions and requests for status updates or access to information.
Malfunctioning equipment, software bugs, or other technical problems can seriously slow down the execution of even the most basic tasks. Problems of this type can be completely paralyzing if they occur in the main infrastructure that serves to provide the foundation for team collaboration.
Aside from investing in new technology, companies can try to maintain their equipment in perfect condition either with in-house personnel or by outsourcing this job to a capable contractor. Teaching the employees how to work around minor issues and encouraging them to report larger ones to the support professionals is another way to reduce vulnerability to technical challenges.
New competitor can try to drive the prices down, market its products more aggressively, or even engage in a targeted campaign directly aimed to take over clients. They may launch new products sooner, introduce innovative functionalities, or bundle multiple services into an attractive package.
It’s not wise to react to every move by competitors, but the most serious challenges must be addressed directly and forcefully. The team may have to pick up the pace and complete the work faster, design some additional functionalities, or find a way to cut costs. However, the most optimal response to a crowded market is to adjust the business model and make it leaner and more efficient.
Some team members may not be happy about their roles and they could channel that negative emotion into poisoning the team spirit and disrupting work activities. Disgruntled workers may not actively challenge the bosses, but they will take every opportunity to avoid pulling their weight. If left unaddressed, this attitude could spread and affect productivity on the organizational level.
Managers and team leaders need to maintain direct lines of communication with every key employee and stay well attuned to their needs. Any source of dissatisfaction should be identified early and resolved through direct negotiations or corporate discipline. If that step fails, a worker with a bad attitude might have to be replaced.
Quite often, teams that performed well in the past struggle to maintain that level of production once they start expanding and adding new members. New recruits can take a long time to catch up with the veterans, while onboarding and training programs may not be well designed or implemented.
Investing into HR capacities is usually a smart decision, especially if the organization has problems attracting and retaining elite talent. Team leaders should provide detailed input about the desired traits and competencies the candidates should possess, and internal training activities should be intensified.
It’s very difficult to properly evaluate the contributions of individual workers and project teams if reporting is incomplete, inaccurate, or irregular. Failure to identify the weak links can be very costly, especially if the wrong people are promoted to responsible positions. Such systems can also be actively abused by misrepresenting the amount of work performed.
Installing a standardized reporting system that relies on customized forms and benchmarks can eliminate the ambiguities regarding performance assessment. Centralization of reporting activities can also provide the management with sufficient information to recognize the most valuable workers and reward them according to their actual value to the organization.
This is perhaps the most threatening scenario, since recovering from a serious system hacking or proprietary data theft can take a long time. In addition to gaining access to sensitive information, the attackers can also cause a serious disruption to project activities, potentially throwing it off schedule or preventing its completion.
Teams that work on high-value projects must adhere to strict security protocols at all times. Access permissions should be carefully managed, while all files containing financial figures should be stored only on company-owned devices and protected with passwords. Use of encrypted communication platforms for group meetings is also recommended.
Can good planning prevent the occurrence of issues during a project?
Planning is essential for keeping the project relatively free of serious challenges, but it can’t completely eliminate the chance of a problematic event. That’s why managers need to be prepared to react to unexpected issues and have a backup plan ready if their original idea fails.
Should organizations use project management software to deal with the challenges?
It’s almost mandatory for medium-sized or larger organizations to adopt professional project management tools that make it easier to identify and fix problems. There are numerous software suites that can be used in this capacity and most of them offer extensive customization possibilities.
Which organizational changes can make a company more resistant to challenges?
Smart companies are setting up early warning systems to alert them to potential problems before they become widespread and affect the bottom line. Shortening the reaction time is the key, so it’s a good practice to empower mid-level decision makers to be more independent in dealing with minor issues within their jurisdiction.
There is a reason why managers are the highest-paid members of an organization – they are expected to have a solution for any complication that happens while a project is in progress. Some issues are so frequent that good remedies are already well-known, but they may require special considerations to work in a specific situation.
The solutions described above are worth trying if you encounter the same type of challenge, but their effectiveness may depend on a long list of factors. That’s why they should be applied with caution, and always followed up with impartial examination of their impact.