Project Management HeadacheIf you had to describe project management in one word, what would it be?

When I think about project management, I think  “complex”.

Engineers and software developers have the luxury of delivering in a technical world where logic and critical thinking always has an answer.  Project managers operate in a fuzzy logic world where logic is overridden by the sociocultural challenges of corporate politics.  Understanding how to deliver in a politically charged environment adds to the complexity of successful project delivery.

Projects simply have a lot of moving parts, communication paths and  potential risks that can thwart the project’s end goal.  Project managers are also continually challenged with “doing more with less” and being more “innovative and agile”.  All these complexities increases project administration and the headaches associated with managing a project.  This article highlights 3 popular project management headaches and provides recommendations on how to fix them.

Headache #1.  Updating the project schedule

A project schedule is useless unless the team uses it to track progress and monitor milestones and commitment dates.  Management still needs to know if a project will meet a completion date and the project manager is typically burdened with updating the schedule and preparing the status reports.  Updating the project schedule is an administrative burden that becomes a “time suck” from value add activities like working on the actual project deliverables!

Solution:  Project status and project schedule updates should be an automatic output from performing the work.  Project managers shouldn’t have to pull team members in a room and ask if this week’s tasks are done.  Considering I can track my mountain bike ride or remote start my car with an iPhone, the separation of the project schedule document from the work actively being performed is an archaic one.

Don’t even get me started on tracking actuals.

A better method is to use a collaboration and work management solution where team members work the tasks and complete the work.  By completing the work and simply marking the task complete, the entire project schedule is updated.  Using the schedule data driven by the project team, the project manager can run a status report rather than trying to resize an entire Gantt chart into a PowerPoint presentation.

Headache #2.  Establishing accurate duration estimates

A project schedule is simply a forecast model of future activities required to deliver a project.  Unless you’re channeling the spirit of Nostradamus and can foresee the future, task estimates will always be an educated estimate.  Yet our stakeholders hold us accountable despite the lack of Second Sight.

Agile project teams rely on Planning Poker estimation games to reach a consensus on task estimates.  Parkinson’s law advocates believe “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.  Some managers believe in mandating task durations rather than seeking estimates from the team members and others simply put provide a best guess.  Project risks occur and despite the best risk management plan, the project estimates are exceeded and the team scrambles in recovery mode.

Solution: Use a ranged two-point estimation set and monitor progress.

The two-point estimation technique provides a comfortable range that any team member can realistically estimate.  When you ask a person for a date or a single point estimate, the person usually hedges their estimate or is reluctant because you are looking for a firm commitment.  Ranged estimates provide the flexibility to be wrong but also provide enough wiggle room to deliver close to the promise date.  Risks will still occur on your project and your team may scramble but it won’t be due to a single point estimate given months ago.

Headache #3 Managing the email overwhelm

In my work email account, I have 183 unread messages.  My personal email account has over 4000 unread messages with all the newsletters, LinkedIn updates and long lost uncles seeking to bequeath their fortune to me.

If you need me to do something on a project, don’t email me.  The inbox is NOT a project management tool or a daily task list.  Trying to find attachments from last month’s meeting, the potluck sign-up list or a nemesis’s insulting yet politically correct email that devalued my idea is futile.  Given the email overwhelm, what is the likelihood I’ll remember to work on the request you sent me at 10:59 pm last night?

Solution:  Use email to communicate facts and meeting notices rather than discussions, file transfers and work requests.  Get out of the inbox and create a task for your team member to follow up using a collaborative work management solution.  By using a collaboration tool, work requests, documents and related communications can be organized around the assigned tasks.  Team members will start their day looking at their daily task list and respond to your request without having to go into the email inbox.  You can still have a heated discussion about the deliverable but it will be organized around the deliverable and not your inbox.

These are just a few of the  headaches found in project delivery.  In project management, there are many pains and different ways to resolve them.

Do these pain points resonate with you?  What other project management headaches you manage on a daily basis?  Please comment in the blog below!  Your responses help provide additional advice, help and insight.

After all, we’ve got projects to deliver!

About the Author

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit

3 Project Management Headaches and How to Fix Them was last modified: November 18th, 2013 by Andy Makar