Top 10 Project Management Problems

By Steve Yager, CEO Artemis International

Historically, people underestimate the planning, cost, time and pain required to roll out and implement a major project. According to the Standish Group CHAOS 2001 report, 40 percent of IT projects are cancelled before completion, 33 percent are adversely affected by cost and time overruns or changes in scope, and on average, 52.7 percent will cost 189 percent of their original estimates. No wonder project managers face uphill battles.

With more than 25 yearsí experience in project management software and consulting, hereís what we see as the ten most difficult project management obstacles.

Problem #1: Project canít begin on time. Project managers are given the assignment but itís added to an already challenging slate of projects. Yet, they are expected to complete the project on schedule.

Solution: Itís important to begin the project, even if it is only assembling the team and breaking the task down into individual assignments. Project managers need to reevaluate the list of projects, look at those tasks on which they are taking time and reconsider their priorities. If project managers are still concerned, they should determine if either the project or other work should be reassigned to ensure the projectís completion on time.

Problem #2: Project has vague requirements. For every step taken, the project takes four steps backward. The project began with nebulous objectives and milestones.

Solution: The project scope must be narrowed enough at the outset to provide a clear path to the end. Before moving forward, project managers should establish reasonably stable metrics. But even when this is done, in virtually all projects, there will be some degree of readjusting priorities while learning the requirements. This problem can be handled easily with the many project-management tools on the market. These tools combine numerous variables to provide realistic projections, even at the early critical decision-making junctures ó before requirements are firm.

Problem #3: Project managers canít stay within project parameters. The project grows in scope as team members work and as more tasks are assigned.

Solution: If project managers believe in some balance between work and life, putting in longer work hours isnít the answer. Because a project coordinates the undertaking of so many interrelated activities, project managers should learn to question each new element of the project.

Ask management how additional projects or features relate to corporate strategy and how they impact current objectives. If project managers must add another step to the project, then they should also consider procuring additional resources to help accomplish the new tasks. Finally, project managers should establish a new deadline, adjust project plans, reschedule work and continue to monitor progress toward desired goals. If project managers stick to these steps, they are more likely to achieve control of the project, stay within project parameters and achieve desired results.

Problem #4: Lack of Strategic Alignment. Thereís only one thing more important than doing projects right and thatís doing the right project. An all too common reason for IT projects being cancelled is because they never should have been started; that is, there is no auditable mapping between the project objectives and the business objectives of the organization.

Solution: Ensure that each project charter contains and explains the rationale for undertaking a project in the context of the current business drivers of the organization. This rationale should include the measurable benefits that will result in the advancement of the business objectives.

Problem #5: Stakeholder Management. Effective stakeholder management requires the identification of individuals who are affected by and/or can affect the successful outcome of a project, especially those who are of a less than positive disposition toward the project objectives. All stakeholders require attentive management to minimize obstacles of this type.

Solution: Create a truly collaborative work environment where visibility of the work involved in the project and the change which is likely to occur as a result of the project can be analyzed, and discussed by interested and affected parties. This ensures minimal uncertainty and the wherewithal to keep all interests "on board." Ownership of risk identification, planning, management and tracking must also be taken, to then be published to the appropriate stakeholders.

Problem #6: Communication breakdowns cause unclear project goals and objectives. Management may rethink its goals for a project, not communicate them well and expect the team to adapt accordingly.

Solution: Working without an up-to-date, well-stated purpose can blur project focus and demotivate the group. Highlight, record and track enterprise-level and project-level objectives, and communicate them in an understandable manner. Always begin with documented criteria for measuring success. Require the project sponsor to define a measurable end result. Not only will this increase the chances for project success, it also will aid in project scope management. To avoid communication breakdowns, project managers also should facilitate good communication ó conflict resolution, coordination and empowerment.

Problem #7: Staff gaps develop. The team has one individual critical to the teamís success. Suddenly that person announces he or she canít continue on the project. The personís loss to the team could jeopardize its success.

Solution: Project managers identify key people at the start of the project and design workflow so that others in the team may be cross-trained to fill these roles should vacancies occur for whatever reason. Backup these key people through the work so there will be someone remaining who is familiar with the project should one of these key people leave the group or get reassigned.

Problem #8: Project managers ignore approaching disaster. Management determines a plan and it is politically unwise either to say or show the objective is unachievable.

Solution: No project is perfect. Problems occur because of inaccurate milestone predictions, budget allocations, schedule delays, new technology demands, additional requirements unanticipated during initial planning and changes in project mission. Management hates surprises and any of these situations can cause disaster during the life of a project. The key to avoiding the "impending doom" scenario is to track the project process carefully and provide management more frequent status reports. With available project analysis tools on the market, project managers can predict more objective analysis of the problem to present to management. Once project managers have composed a plan, review it weekly, if not nightly, against the teamís actual performance. Use schedules and budgets as tools. Day-to-day changes in deadlines, expenditures and revenues cannot be ignored. With regular and timely assessment, it is possible to reflect this constantly changing reality and to keep management regularly informed.

Problem #9: Project teams skip test phase. The number one problem in the development lifecycle is that project teams spend too much time designing and not enough time testing.

Solution: Project management should detail the strategic business objectives and the process to achieve them budgeting in ample time for testing, testing and retesting. This phase is often the first phase to go due to time and budget constraints. Project managers should note that if their teams spend all of their time designing and no time testing, the project is highly likely to fail in the end. Project managers need to have the foresight that when the project goes live, problems will cost more. The success of the project depends on testing throughout the project lifecycle. The process of delivering successful projects, in the end, will prove more worthwhile than management thought.

Problem #10: Fear about not sticking to the tried-and-true. Team members are unable to think outside the box because team members feel unsafe.

Solution: No two variables are more influential to an innovative environment and flow of new ideas than creativity and risk-taking. It is important to create an environment where mistakes can occur. Often, itís a cultural issue ó sometimes one that extends beyond the team. But organizations that play it safe for too long become stale. Organizations that encourage some risk taking get creative results. The ability to think creatively inspires teams and encourages team members to embrace the objectives of the project ó an integral component of team building. Not everything will fly but those ideas that work will keep the company competitive. Itís this message that the team leader needs to send to the projectís participants.

Today, project management is used globally by multi-billion-dollar corporations, governments and small nonprofit organizations alike. There are myriad ways to fail. There are only a very few ways to succeed. The factors of successful project management have been documented for years ó they merely need greater attention. Project management leadership is a highly sought-after skill, as global competition demands that new projects ó small and large ó be completed on time and within budget. As new and re-engineered enterprises emerge in the 21st century, it will be the project management professionals who will play an integral role in the ultimate success of their implementation.

ó Steve Yager is president and CEO of Artemis International in Boulder, CO.

About Artemis International Solutions Corporation
Artemis International Solutions is a leading provider of scalable, enterprise-wide project and resource collaboration solutions. The company's Business Management Architecture™ is the only total solution that maximizes business performance by helping companies transform their strategies into results. Artemis' unique combination of integrated software and consulting services includes strategic portfolio management, project and resource management, workforce procurement and hosted human capital management eBusiness applications. Known for the reliability and scalability of its products, the company's Web-based and client/server solutions are designed to meet IS/IT, capital program and new product development application needs. Artemis provides mission-critical solutions to thousands of clients worldwide, including Global 2000 companies such as: ABN AMRO Bank N.V., BAE SYSTEMS, The Boeing Company, Deutsche Bank, The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Lockheed Martin, Marconi PLC, Nokia, Pfizer Inc., SBC Communications Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Recently named one of KM World.comís "Top 100 Companies That Matter," Artemis operates through its international network of 40 offices in more than 27 countries. The Artemis family of companies recently combined with Opus360 Corporation. The common stock of the resulting company trades under the symbol "OPUS" on the OTCBB. For more information, visit the Artemis Web site at

Kelly Major gave permission to post this article on Friday, September 28, 2001.

Yager, S., "Artemis Solves Top 10 Project Management Problems", DSSResources.COM, 10/03/2001.