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Top 10 Issues for Project Managers
By Robert Kelly

For this week’s article, I tapped into a dozen project managers representing approximately 150 years of experience with companies such as HP, IBM, Schering-Plough (now Merck), Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Lenovo, Siemens & consulting gigs at dozens more. I wanted to ask my colleagues what they would tell an aspiring Project Manager or what issues they would like their managers to assist with.

My questions to them… ”What are those things that frustrate you most about being a Project Manager? What should anyone considering this career path understand first?” The following list is what I compiled from their input and I hope it validates some of your frustrations or can be a source for potential PM’s considering the career track.

  1. The administrative tasks associated with running several projects was overwhelming at first. “For example when I worked at a wireless software firm, I had to maintain a few timesheet systems for my hours, internal developers, and another for my outsourced resources in India. Then there was logging software bugs in a system, ms project tasks, and writing requirements for new products. Then you have your meetings preparing agendas, taking notes, and then sending out follow ups.”
  2. Sharing of resources with other projects/Project managers is the most frustrating thing I came across as a PM.” Not only do you have to track and allocate your own resources time you have to monitor someone else’s project timelines to keep the productivity level at par. Then the game of let’s make a deal starts—I can lend you developer X for Monday and Wed, if you let me have developer Y for two days to finish a GUI interface..oh and I will throw in a lunch.

  3. I did not realize that a PM had to handle so many vendor related tasks, such as dealing with contracts, negotiation rates and policies, and SLAs. Especially dealing with union shops, as they have different rates for jobs at certain times, mandatory breaks, worker furloughs. All play a key part in your project success when you are trying to stay under budget and on time. For example I had a near disaster on one of my deployments because I could not get the truck into the loading dock on time for the movers, the reason being because the bomb sniffing dog was on a lunch break! (NYC, USA). The project was at risk because the dog had to take lunch and pee break…wonderful! Oh by the way that dog charges $90 per hour.

  4. Dependencies and having to rely on other people for success. “You go to people to get status on their task being delivered to other people, and you would think you are asking for their first born!” Gosh forbid one of their dependencies comes in late…wow, don’t they realize it is a two-way street?!

  5. Lots of negative feedback & ‘waffling’ from various team members, as they don’t consider you to be on a ‘management’ level even though you’re responsible for and tracking their work. One team Marketing Communications Director once said “Project Managers get in the way, they are like border collies keep the herd in-line”.

  6. Difficulties setting correct scheduling/resource expectations with the customer, when they don’t fully understand dependencies on different projects (they want everything done ASAP). And, in turn, when you can’t deliver on their requests, you’re viewed as the bad guy.

  7. Virtual/Multinational teams present added challenges…not taught in your typical college class or PM boot camp!

    1. Most people will assume they understand the time zone thing, but when you start scheduling meetings across multiple time zones, the reality hits hard.
    2. When working with multicultural teams it is important to understand the basics of each culture. In some cultures, yes doesn’t mean I agree, it means I heard you.
    3. While most countries have English speaking resources, there plenty that do not and verbal translation slows down progress & often results in wasted effort. Accents also make understanding verbal communication a challenge.
  8. While budgets are part of the triple constraint, major aspect of project management, it is somewhat rare for the PM to actually own the budget. Often you are given a number before you get out of concept phase or monies are shifted at the exec level without input from the PM. Often, actual budget control turns into simply tracking & reporting. However, if the project goes over budget the PM is banged up pretty hard for it.

  9. With all the talk of managing projects via Twitter, web-based tools, and more collaborative/social mediums there is still a lack of wide-spread adoption of PM/PPM management tools at many organizations. Many projects still cobble together some Excel spreadsheets, static MS Project file, and MS Viso schemas into a PowerPoint presentations. Version control, standardization, collaboration, real-time updates, etc are all so close yet so far away!

  10. Project Managers can be typecast pretty quickly, so pick your industry well or jump into a few industries early on. Take something in traditional IT/software development, get into a Health Care IT initiative, and jump on something in Oil & Gas. You may need to take a project manager role here and a coordinator role there. Be open, don’t let pay drive you and spread your wings.

– To the potential Project Managers out there, I hope this gives you some insight into the field of project management. I think most would agree that is a wonderful job and most wouldn’t trade it for anything. I would love to know if there are any specific points above that you would like advice for overcoming.

– To the seasoned Project Managers, which ones did I miss? Any suggestions you may want to share for overcoming these challenges?

– To the manager of Project Managers, please read the list and talk with your Project Managers. How can you help them overcome these issues?

Here’s a video to put things into perspective (we apologize for the grammatical error near the end of the video):

Robert Kelly, PMP, is a program/project manager that does not simply track projects & populate templates, but adds-value by taking ownership and driving results. During his 10 year career, he has managed complex, multinational projects with teams of four through thirty team members at all levels of the organization (Intern through Vice President). You can read more from Robert on his blog, Kelly’s Contemplations

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