6 Common Project Management Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification holders face challenges each day. However, the mark of a successful PMP® certification holder is that you are able to overcome these challenges and still deliver successful projects. Find out more about some of the common challenges PMP credential holders face, and learn some strategies to help you overcome them.

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1. The Client is Constantly Changing Scope

Clients can present a number of challenges, but one of the most common and frustrating ones is a constant change of scope. Many clients may think they know what they want at the beginning of a project, but change their minds as the project progresses. Maybe they learned something new or didn’t like a deliverable you presented. When clients change their minds, PMP credential holders often have to change their entire plan and project trajectory. 

Instead of wasting time, energy, and resources on clients who can’t make up their minds, you should establish expectations early in the project management process regarding how decisions will be made. When you create a detailed project plan, outlining milestones, timelines, and goals, the client will know what to expect from the very beginning. 

In order to prevent these challenges in project management, you should get client approval on this plan prior to starting the project, and let the client know that any changes will impact the project completion timeline. When clients have a thorough understanding of project objectives and priorities, they may think twice before altering the project scope.

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2. The Project is Low Priority to the Client

When you’re working on a project that feels more important to your team than it appears to be to your client, you’re sure to run into issues. These types of challenges are common in project management. Clients that aren’t invested in your project will be slow to communicate, slow to provide feedback, and slow to approve deliverables. Some common challenges associated with disengaged clients include working with minimal guidance and struggling to get answers from them. With such little guidance, there’s a chance the project won’t be in alignment with what the client envisioned, a frustrating outcome for your team.

However, there are some steps you can take to better engage your disengaged clients. Scheduling regular calls, on a weekly or biweekly basis for example, ensures that some time is set aside for the client to focus on what you are accomplishing. You will have a designated time to ask questions, request feedback, and provide updates. 

3. The Client is Dissatisfied with the Project Outcome

A client being displeased with the final result of a project can be one of the biggest disappointments a project manager will face. After investing a huge amount of effort into a project, you may be shocked when a client isn’t thrilled with the end result. 

If client displeasure with the final product is a common occurrence, you may want to reevaluate your communication tactics and project management structure. Are you laying enough groundwork at the beginning of a project to ensure expectations are clearly understood by both parties? It’s important to understand the client’s rationale for a project before you begin. Understanding what the client wants to accomplish will help you close the gap between what they expect and what your team delivers.

To avoid these challenges in project management, you should strategize with the client before commencing a project. Creating a shared vision ensures that you and the client have shared goals, and you’re working together to make the vision for the project a reality. 

4. You’re in Conflict with the Client 

Every project manager will eventually run into conflict with a client someday. While conflict is generally unavoidable, there are ways to engage in appropriate forms of conflict, like working with clients in a tactful and diplomatic way to reach a mutually acceptable solution. 

Here are a few tactics for engaging in healthy conflict:

  • Remain Professional – No matter how much you want to match a client’s level of emotion, it’s vital that you remain professional. Consider your words and tone carefully before responding to a client or presenting your side of an argument. 
  • Actively Listen – Instead of thinking of your rebuttal while the client is explaining their side of the conflict, actively listen to what they are saying. Think about their motivations and why they hold their specific view of the conflict. 
  • Ask Questions – To better understand why you are facing conflict with the client, ask questions about their position. In addition to helping you understand their side, asking questions also buys you time to prepare a thoughtful response to what they are saying. 

In an effort to prevent conflict with clients, you should establish an escalation processes prior to starting the project. Finding a resolution to some conflicts is simply not achievable on your own. You may need a mediator or an arbitrator to help. Before a conflict ever happens, you should create a plan of action and share that plan with your client.

5. You are Unable to Define a Successful Project 

When positive outcomes can look different for every project, it can feel impossible to accurately define and gauge success. While the client might view a project as successful simply because it’s completed, you or your team members may feel like a project was unsuccessful because it went over budget or beyond the deadline. Having a clear, definitive benchmarks for success will help you classify a project as a success once completed. 

You should also define measures for success before a project begins. Using metrics to define these goals for success will give you a bar against which you can measure your progress. You may be tempted to gather metrics near or at the end of a project. Instead, you should be collected metrics from the moment the project begins. You can also show clients active proof of your success, ensuring they are on board with the direction of the project. 

6. A Project has Ended in Failure

Do you feel like a project you completed was not a success? If so, you need to reconsider how work has been delegated and who is accountable for this failed project. When projects are not completed on time, within budget, or to the quality specifications of the client, it’s important to understand why. Talk to and observe your team to identify any factors that may have contributed to project failure. When you have a better understanding of what went wrong, you can understand how to avoid this challenge in the future.

Each of these challenges are easy to overcome with the right strategies and effective training. It’s also important to plan and prepare for any challenges preemptively, to ensure you’re ready for any issues that arise. Through PMP certification training courses, you can not only earn and renew your PMP credential, you can also prepare to face any challenges that come your way. 

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO