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Common Project Challenges – and how to deal with them

Throughout any project there are challenges that can spring up, and attempt to take us off track in progressing our projects. Even when we’ve carefully laid out our project plan; the context, our stakeholders, and even our own project team can throw a spanner into the works.

Throughout our Project Management training programmes, we find out about the kinds of challenges that make for a worried Project Manager. But fear not, you are not alone. Below are some of the most common challenges we’ve experienced, and ways to both deal with them at the time and how you could minimise these from happening in future projects.

Challenge 1: Demanding VIP 

A senior member of staff, who hasn’t been involved in your project so far, gets in touch and says they should be involved in upcoming decisions.

How to deal with this

To start with find out more about their interest in the project. Ask open questions and keep an open mind. How do they envision supporting and adding value to upcoming decisions? Once you have this information discuss with your Project Sponsor whether this would be best for the project. Agree how to ensure the senior staff member can be bought up to speed quickly or what to do if it’s not appropriate to involve them.

How to minimise this in the future

In scoping and planning ensure you’ve considered a range of stakeholders and their possible interests in being involved in your project. Consider all departments and senior staff. Take a wide view. Any key stakeholders should then be involved as early as possible in project discussions.

Challenge 2: Scope Creep

You’ve started delivering your project and your funder decides that your project needs to achieve an additional objective

How to deal with this

Set up a discussion to find out more about the objective needed and how much of a priority this is. Review your project scope and consider what impact this has on what has already been agreed. From this you can then review your project plan and see what you would need to do to achieve the new objective. Identify whether additional funding, resource or time will be needed and highlight this to your funder. Then review again: is it still needed and feasible?

How to minimise this in the future

While you can’t prevent this from happening, you can ensure we have regular reviews and frequent communication. This will build your relationship and help to ensure that funders flag any changes to you as soon as possible.


Challenge 3: Lack of sponsorship

Your Project Sponsor is not responding to requests for decisions or sign off needed to progress the project

How to deal with this

As a first step book in a meeting with your Project Sponsor. Talk through the importance of what the project is achieving, reminding them how important it is, and by extension how important they are. Explain the impact on the project outcomes when decisions and/or sign off are delayed. Talk through options for communicating better, aiming to ensure the Project Sponsor has the right information at the right time and an agreed turnaround time.

How to minimise this in the future

During scoping ensure there is clarity on the roles of Project Manager and Project Sponsor. Agree when key decisions or sign off will be needed from the Project Sponsor and what information they need to make decisions effectively. Find out how they like to work, and how they like to communicate.  Ensure you agree what response time to expect from each other.

Challenge 4: Lack of collaboration

A person in another department is saying they are too busy to carry out critical activities in your project

How to deal with this

Have a conversation to find out what priorities this person is currently working on. Again, use open questions and keep an open mind. Explore whether there are other options to balance competing priorities, including if another person can carry out the activities at all or if the timescale can be changed. If an agreement can’t be reached, then a discussion including your Project Sponsor and their line manager may be needed to agree and balance priorities.

How to minimise this in the future

Often this happens when you haven’t sufficiently involved and agreed timescales with key project team members at the earliest stages of scoping and planning of projects. By involving people sooner, any potential clashes can be identified, and plans put in place before it becomes an issue. In busy organisations, it is highly like that priorities shift over time. Therefore, the sooner you build a good relationship with your project colleagues, the sooner you will find out about clashes.

No matter how well prepared you are there will always be challenges that arise during a project. No project is perfectly planned or executed. As a Project Manager the most important thing you can do is be open to change and be ready to deal with challenges at the time. Don’t let them get out of control – have a conversation, find out more, and take action. Every challenge is also an opportunity to improve how you manage projects in the future, take time to consider how you can learn from this challenge and identify what to do differently next time. Share this learning with all your project team. This enables us, our teams, and our organisation to ensure our projects are increasingly successful.

To develop your project management skills further, take a look at our Project Management Programme. You will learn how to create a project rationale, set measurable results, manage your stakeholders and risks, create accurate project plans and monitor and evaluate success. If you’d like to discuss project management, contact us online or call 020 7978 1516 to speak to a consultant.

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Laura Slater

About Laura Slater

Laura specialises in project governance and management, as well as leadership and management development. Laura has 8 years’ experience in the charity sector, in particular developing and delivering regional...