Project Management

Common Project Management Challenges & How to Overcome Them

By Josh
(Updated on )
Common Project Management Challenges

As a project manager, you have to consistently deal with time, budget, and resource constraints to achieve project objectives. A good project manager anticipates and proactively tackles the limitless challenges a project throws at them. In this article, we will discuss common project management challenges and how you can resolve them.

Team-related Challenges

Projects are built up by the teams you manage and when they can’t work together or communicate effectively, then everything you’ve worked for will topple over or not even get off the ground.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni cleverly highlights why some teams fail to create quality project results.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team (in order)

#1. Absence of Trust

Teams that lack trust are afraid of making mistakes and showing vulnerabilities. This not only wastes time but also raises other company issues such as employee turnover rates.

Signs that your team lacks trust:

  1. Does not ask for help
  2. Hesitant to ask for feedback
  3. Makes mistakes by not asking for clarification
  4. Not being active in meetings

What you can do about it:

  1. Trust is an exchange. Listening to your team’s suggestions will help them feel that you trust their judgment towards creating better projects.
  2. Get to know their personality. Expressing interest in your team’s life makes sharing information feel more natural.
  3. Proactively give constructive feedback. Let them know if they’re doing a good job or put negative feedback down lightly to discourage creating fear.


#2. Fear of Conflict

Have you ever experienced “friendliness” in the office, only to discover that one worker hates another? That’s called Artificial Harmony. When teams have a fear of conflict, they settle for these passive, peaceful, and unproductive solutions instead of healthy debates.

Signs your team has Fear of Conflict:

  1. You have quick, quiet, and unsubstantial meetings
  2. Not addressing the elephant in the room
  3. The workspace is filled with internal gossip and politics

What you can do about it:

  1. Encourage openness. Creating an environment that allows workers to have casual conversations is a step towards better communication.
  2. Deliberately ask thought-provoking questions in meetings.


#3. Lack of Commitment

Fearing conflict essentially throws commitment out of the window. There are 2 underlying issues arising from a lack of commitment:

  1. Team Indecision
  2. Certainty

A good team considers everyone’s ideas, debates on them, and chooses which one is best in a unified consensus. Of course, the opposite of that is indecision, where team members cannot accept other’s ideas. This makes the uncompromising team members feel uneasy about following the plan.

What you can do about it:

  1. Always consider a team member’s suggestion. Discuss thoroughly why it would or won’t work to avoid seeming dismissal.
  2. Ask for clarification questions at the end of a meeting
  3. Introduce contingency plans for when complications arise. This negates uncertainty towards accomplishing tasks.


#4. Avoidance of Accountability

Uncommitted teams will have no confidence in their work. Therefore, they usually have trouble staying accountable for actions or tasks they’ve done. In the same way, members who lack accountability will refuse to call out behavioral and performance problems for the sake of maintaining good relations with colleagues.

Signs your team is avoiding accountability:

  1. Discipline and performance is only maintained when in front of the team leader
  2. Frequently missed deadlines
  3. Team members are not motivated to generate own ideas

What you can do about it:

  1. Create a structure that’s makes it convenient (and rewarding) for anyone to report project/peer issues
  2. Engage in one-on-one conversations with members that indicates signs of avoiding accountability
  3. Define the team’s goals with as much necessary details as possible. Having clear objectives counter ambiguity, the opposite of accountability


#5. Inattention to results

For a team, when one loses, everyone does. A member who focuses on their own interest is sabotaging the team’s objectives. Inadvertently, a team that can be held accountable will gravitate on a collaborative effort to reach peak performance.

Signs your team is inattentive to results:

  1. Individual members are too focused on building their own career
  2. There’s a noticeable imbalance in quality for each section of a project

What you can do about it:

  1. Create a rewarding system that benefits the entire team
  2. Have the intention to publicly declare the project’s results


Inadequate Risk Management

“Failing to plan is planning to fail” is a passage you’d often see on a motivational post and there's a good reason why: Being ill-prepared for a project would spell disaster in a lot of ways. Common issues that may arise would be project delays and risks of over budgeting.

What you can do about it:

Create detailed project plans and timelines. Fill the overall blueprint of your operational plan with contingencies but at the same time, make room for some error, nobody is perfect after all. . This way, even if business tool issues or employee day offs come up, you will still be on time with your deliverables.


Not Enough "Skills" in The Team

It’s one thing to have a disorganized team. But when you have one that just doesn’t have enough manpower or skills to produce the quality you want, it can be really difficult to satisfy stakeholders. 

What you can do about it:

Having a graphic designer that can’t capture your envisioned style is a pain that you can’t really solve instantly. That’s why, to solve this problem, we have to  go back to the beginning… preparation. You don’t necessarily need to form a team based on their years of experience. Instead, pick ones that have the required expertise.


External Challenges

Unrealistic Expectations from Project Stakeholders

When clients or project owners fall into the side of being both unsupportive and having unrealistic expectations, things can get complicated.

A client that aggressively demands quality results within a few days for a 2 week project scope is frustrating for the whole team if the client does not provide any additional support.

What you can do about it:

  1. Clarify the scope of a project at the start and have a plan to achieve it before confirming acceptance on the project.
  2. Try to include the stakeholders to be proactive in the project and have tools to document communications.
  3. Be upfront to notify stakeholders on any potential scope creep effects - immediately is best to give stakeholders a chance to backup on requests that they may not really need if it will cost them.

Scope Creep

Scope creep happens in all projects, the trick on resolving troubles they present is really just in the manner of managing them. The issue here is that some clients do not have a clear vision of what their output should look like. So it’s up to your team to adjust for new tasks, requirements, and timelines.

What you can do about it:

  1. Proactively discuss project changes requested by clients especially if it requires any additional time or costs. Give them a chance to limit scope creep and cancel less important ideas.
  2. Preparation work and foresight to see potential problems before they need to be rectified with cost and time.
  3. Establish a system that makes collaboration more seamless. This can be in the form of project management tools, shared files, chat tools, or other SaaS collaboration tools.

How Frameworks Solve Project Management Challenges

A project management framework comprises the processes, tasks and tools needed to take the project from beginning to end. It’s typically broken into three parts:

  1. Project lifecycle
  2. Project control cycle
  3. Tools & Templates

Adopting and following a proper project management framework can greatly help a project be successful in the same way that forcing a bad one can hinder its progress.

Scrum is a popular framework that Smartoo has adopted. It’s based on the concept of iterative and incremental development.

Graphic credit to: Digite

Some project management challenges that Scrum can solve:

1. Team Related Challenges

A framework like Scrum has ceremonies to help a team plan their work together and stay focused on the Sprint goal. Each role has clear accountability and Retrospectives empowers team members to better communicate their opinions on how the team can improve for the next sprint.

2. Unrealistic Expectations from Project Stakeholders

Scrum forces our Director to be involved as the product owner role allowing a very direct communication channel on how product requests may impact time, cost and quality.

3. Scope Creep

Similar to item 2 above, product owners and the team are fully aware that requests or stories will take time and scrum has put that problem at the forefront. A sprint is a fixed timebox and the team decides what stories / tasks can be achieved in each sprint. Adding  new requests means another less urgent request needs to be removed. Note however, that this does not mean that projects can be completed faster, it’s just a way for the team to be aligned with how to handle future requests.

Resolving Project Management Challenges with Smartoo

While Smartoo is technically a project scheduling tool, it definitely does fix most of the challenges we’ve talked about today.

A project scheduling tool is kind of like a project management tool, with just 1 main difference. A scheduling tool like Smartoo uses graphs and time blocks to actually see the schedules of each project and team member. Meanwhile, a project management tool is more task-focused, usually in a to-do list style.

Now, which challenges can Smartoo help you with?

1. Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment

If your team is riddled with indecision, then having a tool that can show everyone exact project dates, details, and subtasks might help. Being able to see a visual representation of your “mission” can help the team be more firm in their decision-making. In addition, team members can also edit and adjust time blocks for projects and tasks as long as they have permission.

2. Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability

It’s hard not to stay accountable when the whole team can see your work schedule. In the same way, you could also see everyone else’s schedule. This makes it easier for team members to stay on track while also having the “excuse” to call out other peers because of how easy it is to spot their progress.

3. Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results

The entire point of having a project scheduling tool like Smartoo is to encourage team efforts. Being able to see schedules lets your team visualize the collective goal, complete with project milestones. It’s not like a project management tool where you could at most only see the tasks of other team members.

4. Inadequate Risk Management

With Smartoo, you can create entire projects: complete with timelines, team members, and details then set them down for later. Its scheduling style helps you visualize the project time frame and adjust it based on the amount of room you think you’ll need for errors.

5. Scope Creep

Scope creep is all about making project adjustments. And Smartoo just made it so much easier. With this tool, you can fine-tune your schedule by a simple drag and drop of the time block. All this while updating it in real-time, so that everyone in the team is well-informed of the change.


Project managers will face a lot of challenges in their everyday grind. However, with enough planning, preparation and precaution, you’ll find yourself having a smoother project workflow. Some challenges like scope creep are inevitable, and are even highly variable depending on the client. But when you know what to do, you’ll find that they aren’t challenges per se, but natural events that are a part of the whole process.