Any project is vulnerable to risks and uncertainties that sometimes can’t be predicted and avoided. But there are things that negatively affect the project success but can be neither controlled nor prevented. We’re talking about the human side of project management. The heart of any project is people: they create an idea, then someone supports it, then someone implements it, and there should be someone who controls the process. Therefore, the success of any project depends pretty much on behavioral aspects. Let’s see what has the most impact on the project flow, what challenges team members and project managers face on the way to the project completion, and how to deal with them.
Issues Arising at Project Initiation and Ways to Address Them
During the initiation stage, the main task of a project manager is to define project objectives, set milestones, evaluate the budget and dwell upon possible risks. At this step, they discuss every detail with clients and stakeholders and prepare everything to start working on the project. During this stage, a PM also creates a project scope. As a result of the Initiation stage, a project manager makes a project proposal and discusses it with the clients and stakeholders before creating a project plan. When everything is agreed on, a project manager prepares a project plan that implies identifying tasks and allocating resources to them.
Let’s distinguish the most common human-related problems a project team can face at this stage.
Unrealistic expectations undoubtedly lead to project failure because in the end the clients and stakeholders will get something different from what they wanted to get. Besides, missed deadlines and overbudgeting are their fellow passengers on the way to project delivery. Unrealistic expectations can be caused by the absence of planning, estimations (time or budget), communication or their inadequacy. The most efficient means to deal with unrealistic expectations is to
- plan carefully and use milestones as cornerstones,
- keep your team, clients and stakeholders informed and make sure they have no questions or doubts.
Changing / Lack of Clear Requirements and Goals
Sometimes clients don’t know what they want or can’t express their thoughts clearly, which is why either a PM has gaps in the knowledge of the project and its objectives, or gets them incorrectly, and as a result, the project team works on the project but not the project the client is expecting to get. This also refers to stakeholders who have a significant impact on the project.
To avoid this,
- Don’t be afraid of asking additional questions and make sure you understand every detail the client is talking about or asking for.
- Hold regular meetings and be in touch with every party involved.
Lack of / Improper Communication
Without proper communication, any project is losing a battle. According to PMI, one of five projects fails due to improper communication or its lack. Any project manager should be in touch with two groups of people when a project is in progress: a project team and stakeholders. Only through communication can you prevent misunderstandings and conflicts. Besides, discussing goals, problems, and reporting on progress are the things that provide transparency to the project management. You all are in the same boat as you have a common goal – successful project delivery on time and within budget.
Lack of Resources
You remember that one of the biggest mistakes of project management is overloading employees, don’t you? But is it possible to avoid overload when managing several projects with a shared resource pool when there are much more tasks than resources, you would ask. To prevent your people from bad multitasking, you should create a resource management plan and make sure you have the right expert for every task. What’s important here is task prioritization: if task priorities are calculated with regard to inter-project relations, there should be no worries.
Problems of the Project Execution Stage and Ways to Resolve
The project execution stage is the core phase during which the project team accomplishes tasks as part of the project. Here the main responsibility of a project manager is to control the process, immediately react to any project flow transformations, communicate with the team members, clients, and stakeholders, report on the project progress, and resolve challenges if any. Let’s dwell upon the pitfalls that may arise at this stage in terms of our topic.
The Negative Impact of Office Politics
Office politics or management by decibels is a type of management when anyone who has some kind of power in the organization tries to influence the resource to make him or her work on the task he or she needs to complete as part of a project. The resource, in turn, can’t resist the pressure and does his/her best to please all the colleagues asking for help and insisting that their task is the most urgent and important. This results in bad multitasking: when an employee tries to work on too many tasks but can’t succeed with any of them because of constant switching between the topics
How to Avoid Management by Decibels?
The most effective way to reduce bad multitasking as a result of management by decibels is to have all tasks ordered by their priorities. Then nobody will be able to argue that their tasks are more important than others, and every employee will always know what goes next in the list of tasks.
Student Syndrome as a Cause of Missed Due Dates
Student syndrome is a phenomenon associated with purposeful procrastination. It’s peculiar for every employee working for a project when they have a certain amount (sometimes too big) of time and know they also have some extra (buffer) time allotted for the task. As a result, an employee postpones the execution of the task till the latest moment, and then tries to make it on time, and usually fails. It affects not only due dates but also the quality of the task execution as the employee works on it being under severe stress and within short timeframes.
How to Avoid Student Syndrome?
- Add buffer time to the end of the project instead of tasks.
- Make sure every team member is guided by the rule to complete the task asap and leave this extra time for the case something will really go wrong in the project.
- Clear task priorities and elimination of task deadlines will help employees understand the importance of the tasks on top and teach them to work at full capacity.
- Avoid resource overload at any price and correctly assign resources to tasks based on their availability and skills.
Parkinson’s Law May Be the Reason for Too Long Project Delivery
According to Parkinson’s law, no matter how much time you have to complete a task, you’ll spend it all even if the task requires twice less. Sounds like a simple waste of time and postponing the project delivery, doesn’t it? And it really is.
How to Avoid Parkinson’s Law?
- The number one rule is to change an approach to task estimations when planning. Instead of estimating how much time you need to complete a task, dwell upon the efforts it will take, i.e. break the task into small steps to have an idea whether it’s complex or rather easy to finish.
- Forget about due dates for tasks. You don’t need task deadlines. Does it matter if you’ve finished a small task much earlier if the project has failed? Or does it matter if a task has been completed later but the whole project has been accomplished on time? Take care of the project due date instead of the tasks’ deadlines.
- And the third rule is to change an approach to task execution itself. Report on the task completion asap. Just remember that your goal is to leave the project in a better state than it was before you started your task. Here task priorities are of great help. You don’t have to think what task to take and when its deadline is if you have an ordered list of tasks, and you know what’s really significant for the project at a certain moment.
Don’t Be Afraid of Murphy’s Law but Remember About It
Even if everything seems to be foreseen: the project plan is perfect as well as the project team, there are things that can go wrong and damage your excellent project environment. As we’re talking about the human side of project management, we won’t regard weather conditions or something alike independent of a human being. But just think how many human-related things can destroy your project plan: employee’s illness, countless mistakes – something that’s called ‘human error’, or some misunderstandings leading to interpersonal conflicts in the end. That’s where Murphy’s law strikes: it’s impossible to predict everything and get prepared for that. But don’t fall into despair, you can prepare grounds to manage your environment in uncertainty.
How to Get Prepared for Murphy’s Law Strike?
The scheme is similar to the mentioned above. The main thing you have to keep in mind is that you should be flexible. So, there are some rules of dealing with Murphy’s law:
- Be guided by clear priorities. Here a PM tool will be handy, so if anything in a project environment changes, the priorities will change automatically taking inter-project relations into account.
- Eliminate task milestones and make every team member report on task completion asap.
- Change task buffer to project buffer.
- Regularly examine the team’s performance and analyze the mistakes.
Challenges of Project Completion and Overcoming Them
The final stage of any project execution implies analyzing the results, reporting to the clients and stakeholders, and signing all documents. At this stage, some misunderstandings may appear and a project manager should find the solution and suggest the best way to satisfy every party’s interests. Let’s briefly analyze the problems that sometimes appear when almost all project work is done.
Team Availability Issues
At the end of the final stage, when the project is completed and only documents are left to sign, some additional questions or issues may arise that may require team members’ attention and further work. But usually key employees are allocated to other projects as soon as the current one is completed. Here the resource availability becomes the main problem that may put the almost completed project in jeopardy. This one more time justifies the reasonableness of focusing on milestones and ensuring transparency during communication. Put a milestone somewhere close to the end of the project and communicate the outcomes to everyone involved. Make sure no issue is left to discuss, and then close the project by preparing all necessary documentation.
As a rule, the clients or stakeholders aren’t satisfied with what they get if they initially had unrealistic expectations. To insure oneself against this, plan thoroughly and make sure you provide full project transparency and clients and stakeholders get all data they should be aware of.
Changing Requirements to a Completed Project
Another issue that may happen to any project manager is the client asking for changes when the current project is completed and the team has switched to another one. For example, this often happens to IT projects when clients finally discover they don’t know how to use the app or they don’t have enough documentation. This may lead to misunderstandings and even conflicts, so you as a project manager should better take care of that by following some simple rules:
- Check out if all parties have all necessary documents, manuals, and access to the required systems.
- Make sure that project goals set initially are achieved at the given stage.
- Assure yourself that there are no in-process jobs and all tasks are completed.
- Examine all contracts and check if everything is in line with the points stated there, and that everyone has fulfilled their obligations.
- Don’t forget about the lessons learned document.
- Drop the team and let them move to another project.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully completed your project.
Summing Up: Ways to Predict / Resolve Behavioral Challenges in Project Management
Pretty much depends on the approach you’re guided by. The following rules will help you prevent your projects from the issues described above or address them if you’re already facing some:
- Put extra (safe) time to the end of the project instead of leaving a buffer in every task. In such a way, you prevent our environment from Student syndrome, Parkinson’s law, Murphy’s law, and uncertainties.
- Priorities should be the main guide for the project team. Don’t deviate from them. This helps avoid office politics, bad multitasking, and lack of resources when working in a multi-project environment with a shared resource pool.
- Don’t estimate the duration of tasks. Assess the efforts a task takes instead. To understand the complexity of a task and the volume of work it requires, we recommend splitting tasks into small steps.
Talking about project management software features, the following ones are crucial in this respect:
- Automatically calculated priorities that get updated if any changes occur. If more than two projects are in progress at the same time, the tool should be capable of considering inter-project relations by sharing milestones between them. It’s especially important for multi-project environments with a shared resource pool.
- The tool should be equipped with some functionalities to ensure communication between project team members. For instance, an opportunity to leave comments for every item in the system is really handy. So, if anyone has questions or doubts about a task, they can resolve the problem on the spot. Besides, the information won’t ever be lost as it can happen if the discussion is held in a messenger.
- Assigning resources to tasks based only on their availability is not enough. In an ideal scenario, such parameters as availability, capacity, and skills should be taken into account. Fortunately, modern PM tools are capable of analyzing this data and suggesting a perfect match.
- Report generation is a must-have feature of any tool to ensure transparency.
- A project manager should have access to the past, current, and future data in the real time. So, if any constraints arise, a PM will find it out immediately. When talking about ‘the future information’ we mean a tool’s ability to simulate a project environment based on the past and current data, and visualize a graphical representation of the further project flow. With this feature, a PM can foresee and avoid constraints.
- Integration with a human resource management system will synchronize the data about the availability of resources, so you’ll have all the information right in the system automatically without the need to enter it manually.
Have you ever faced any of the challenges above? What was the solution? Share your experience in the comment section below.