If you’re managing a project, you have a lot on your plate: responsibilities and tasks to juggle, people to manage, resources to allocate, customers to please, and more. Sometimes things fall through the cracks. And when they do, someone is going to come looking for you. It’s enough to cause endless nightmares!

what keeps project managers up at night

If you can relate, you’re not alone. Here’s a top 10 list of what keeps project managers up at night.

1. “I don’t know what’s going on with the project.”
This is a common insomnia causer for PMs, and it occurs because there’s no visibility into the big picture of the project. Team members work in silos, they collaborate in email streams or spreadsheet, or they rely on plan updates by one person who’s manually updating changes to a schedule that is rarely current. And if you do have a collaborative scheduling tool, nobody’s using it. The worst incarnation of this is when a stakeholder asks for an impromptu status report and your answer is, “Um . . . “.

2. “We’re not going to make our deadline. What am I going to tell the customer?”
The fear of missing deadlines keeps PMs awake—especially when you’re the one stuck with the task of breaking the bad news. If this feels like a returning nightmare, blame it on working toward finish dates that have no basis in reality. Maybe your project team agreed to a customer’s imposed (but unrealistic) deadline because you wanted the work (reasonable), but didn’t have a way to create an accurate project plan that accounted for all the necessary work (ideal). The result: PMs are stuck with the responsibility of communicating these missed deadlines to the customers and trying to come up with an acceptable explanation other than, “I don’t know.”

3. “What am I going to do about that new project that just got prioritized over my last one?”
You created the project plan, balanced all of the workloads, assigned tasks, rallied the team and then: a new “number one priority project” gets dropped in your lap. This means all other projects get pushed back and workloads are stacked. The stress from these changes and the backlash from the team keeps you awake and wondering how to make it all work.

4. “Half my team is out with the flu, how am I going to get the work done!?”
Another insomnia causer is when your workforce suddenly diminishes. Then you have to reassign tasks while keeping resource workload in mind. Without a constantly updated view of resource availability and workload there is no guaranteed successful way to reassign tasks to ensure deadlines will still be met. So, there are only two outcomes: overload resources until the epidemic has passed, or push deadlines further out.

5. “Does my boss think I’m doing a good job?”
Not knowing how you appear in the eyes of your boss is stressful. You might stay up late wondering: Does she know you’ve been working 18 hours a day to make these project plans successful? Does she know that those deadlines were missed because your team was sick? Does she think you’re not working on top priority projects? Without a centralized, collaborative workspace that everyone is actively using, these are valid fears because nobody knows what anyone is doing. Plus, there is no data or pathway to prove and then address the problems. Creating reports to demonstrate workload or team priorities helps present your case. But how many hours in a day can be spent writing up reports?

6. “I think we have enough resources to finish the project on deadline . . . “
When there are 10 tasks left to be completed in three days by three people, how do you decide who will work on each task? And how do you capacity plan to bring the project in on time? This is where project guestimation comes calling at 2 a.m. It might be one of the top causes of sleep deprivation among PMs. Without visibility into the remaining tasks and your team’s workload, all you have to rely on is hope and team grit to get things done.

7. “Does my team trust me?”
You can spend countless hours working hard to create the perfect plan that makes everyone happy—stakeholders, customers, clients, contractors, project teams. Does your team realize this?? Constantly wondering if the team trusts your ability to lead and make good decision can spawn an unsettling restlessness. The only thing you can do is push that nagging question out of your head, “Are they getting my emails?”

8. “I have no idea what my team is doing and if they’re working on the right things.”
Once tasks are assigned to the team, things can become a bit of a guessing game. Priorities change, features are added or subtracted so now what? You can’t stay organized and relay priorities through email strings and individually updated spreadsheets. Silos be damned!

9. “Am I making the right decisions?”
Second guessing—a shared problem among project managers constantly. Creating the project plan and guaranteeing a deadline can create a lot of pressure. When you’re the only person overseeing the project plan, making task estimation and creating schedules, you’re short changing yourself on the expertise possessed by the rest of your team. Great decisions don’t get made in a vacuum.

10. “There’s no margin for error on this project. If anything goes off plan we’re screwed!”
You can create the perfect project plan that ensures all milestones are hit and delivery comes in on time. The only caveat is that no one can get sick, take unplanned time off, or be a minute late. Worry seems to be a consistent symptom shared among project managers, waking you up in the middle of the night. In the back of your mind you know what happens when you don’t account for unexpected surprises and humans being humans. Plan for uncertainty!

There’s always a cure for professional insomnia—and it doesn’t come in a pill form. Instead, you need proven solutions that often take some planning, thought and skill building. To help you get there (and sleep like a baby at night), download our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

top 9 project management challenges


Top 10 Reasons Project Managers Can’t Sleep at Night was last modified: January 27th, 2016 by Kelsey Owsley