For this week’s post,  I tapped into a dozen project managers representing approximately 150 years of experience with companies such as HP, IBM, Schering-Plough (now Merck), Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Lenovo, Siemens & consulting gigs at dozens more.  There has been a lot of discussion on project management in the past year…PMI & APM membership is growing, the US Government has called out project/program management in a 5 part IT Improvement strategy, and so on.  With all this focus, I wanted to ask my colleagues what they would tell an aspiring Project Manager or what issues they would like their managers to assist with.

My questions to them…”What are those things that frustrate you most about being a Project Manager?  What should anyone considering this career path understand first?”  The following list is what I compiled from their input and I hope it validates some of your frustrations or can be a source for potential PM’s considering the career track.

  1. The administrative tasks associated with running several projects was overwhelming at first. “For example when I worked at a wireless software firm, I had to maintain a few timesheet systems for my hours, internal developers, and another for my outsourced resources in India. Then there was logging software bugs in a system, ms project tasks, and writing requirements for new products. Then you have your meetings preparing agendas, taking notes, and then sending out follow ups.”
  2. Sharing of resources with other projects\PMs is the most frustrating thing I came across as a PM.” Not only do you have to track and allocate your own resources time you have to monitor someone else’s project timelines to keep the productivity level at par. Then the game of let’s make a deal starts—I can lend you developer X for Monday and Wed, if you let me have developer Y for two days to finish a GUI interface..oh and I will throw in a lunch.
  3. I did not realize that a PM had to handle so many vendor related tasks, such as dealing with contracts, negotiation rates and policies, and SLAs. Especially dealing with union shops, as they have different rates for jobs at certain times, mandatory breaks, worker furloughs. All play a key part in your project success when you are trying to stay under budget and on time. For example I had a near disaster on one of my deployments because I could not get the truck into the loading dock on time for the movers, the reason being because the bomb sniffing dog was on a lunch break! (NYC, USA). The project was at risk because the dog had to take lunch and pee break…wonderful! Oh by the way that dog charges $90 per hour.
  4. Dependencies and having to rely on other people for success.  “You go to people to get status on their task being delivered to other people, and you would think you are asking for their first born!”  Gosh forbid one of their dependencies comes in late…wow, don’t they realize it is a two-way street?!
  5. Lots of negative feedback & ‘waffling’ from various team members, as they don’t consider you to be on a ‘management’ level even though you’re responsible for and tracking their work.  One team Marketing Communications Director once said “Project Managers get in the way, they are like border collies keep the herd in-line”.
  6. Difficulties setting correct scheduling/resource expectations with the customer, when they don’t fully understand dependencies on different projects (they want everything done ASAP).  And, in turn, when you can’t deliver on their requests, you’re viewed as the bad guy. (Thank you to Brian, The Wolf, Chisamore)
  7. Virtual/Multinational teams present added challenges…not taught in your typical college class or PM boot camp!
    1. Most people will assume they understand the time zone thing, but when you start scheduling meetings across multiple time zones, the reality hits hard.
    2. When working with multicultural teams it is important to understand the basics of each culture. In some cultures, yes doesn’t mean I agree, it means I heard you.
    3. While most countries have English speaking resources, there plenty that do not and verbal translation slows down progress & often results in wasted effort. Accents also make understanding verbal communication a challenge.
  8. While budgets are part of the triple constraint, major aspect of project management, it is somewhat rare for the PM to actually own the budget.  Often you are given a number before you get out of concept phase or monies are shifted at the exec level without input from the PM.  Often, actual budget control turns into simply tracking & reporting.  However, if the project goes over budget the PM is banged up pretty hard for it.
  9. With all the talk of managing projects via Twitter, web-based tools, and more collaborative/social mediums there is still a lack of wide-spread adoption of PM/PPM management tools at many organizations.  Many projects still cobble together some Excel spreadsheets, static MS Project file, and MS Viso schemas into a PowerPoint presentations.  Version control, standardization, collaboration, real-time updates, etc are all so close yet so far away!
  10. Project Managers can be typecast pretty quickly, so pick your industry well or jump into a few industries early on.  Take something in traditional IT/software development, get into a Health Care IT initiative, and jump on something in Oil & Gas.  You may need to take a project manager role here and a coordinator role there.  Be open, don’t let pay drive you and spread your wings.

– To the potential PMs out there, I hope this gives you some insight into the field of project management.  I think most would agree that is a wonderful job and most wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I would love to know if there are any specific points above that you would like advice for overcoming.

– To the seasoned PMs‘, which ones did I miss?  Any suggestions you may want to share for overcoming these challenges?

– To the manager of PMs, please read the list and talk with your PMs.  How can you help them overcome these issues?


31 thoughts on “Top 10 Issues for Project Managers

    1. Really sorry for the delay, I’ve been out of the blogging space for some time. That said, never to late to say thank you…I really appreciate your link back/mention to my post.


  1. I think another challanges that project manager are facing include 1. Organisational uncertainities 2. Unusual Decision pressure 3. Vulnerability to top management mistakes.

  2. Great article, Kelly and nice suggestion Colin for the change management system. Gary, your insight strikes right at the root of project success. SwiftLaunch may help solve problems #1, #8 and #9 for your future projects. Thanks for sharing everyone and good luck on your future project performance.

  3. Thanks for this great article. Personally I like number for when you talk about “Dependencies”. This happens all the time.

    If you want to be successful…just go out there and DO IT. Don’t wait for anyone else. If you are dependent then you will more than likely be left in the dust.



  4. I like the analogy of project manager functions as border collie……of course since I am a project manager and own/love a border collie…..I am bias! In my 27 years of project experience, any anti-project management culture will be a great challenge for any project manager…..some more….some less. I’ve witnessed too many companies that implement a PMO (to some degree) and expect the project manager(s) to implement best practices in project management without the full support of the senior leadership team and/or middle managers (functional managers). Proper organizational change is required when a PMO is introduced and implemented and if the organizational change is not planned and managed (by and with the SLT and middle managers) the odds of success (however defined) greatly decreases. Therefore, any new (or old) project manager must understand what he or she is really getting themselves into :) which is always difficult to discern via job interviews.

  5. OK, I am going to propose adding sustainability to this list of issues.

    Now, before you shut down, automatically thinking of me as a sandal-wearing, tree-hugging, sign-carrying Greenpeace protester, I ask you to think of me as I am, a career engineer and project manager with 30+ years of industry project management experience.

    And as far as project managers, there are two very non-altruistic reasons to put sustainability on the list of issues for PMs:

    1. Getting well-versed at green issues is smart for your own career; there will, like it or not, be more wind-farms, biofuel plants, packaging research, electric cars, car charging stations, and such. These all need project managers, don’t they?

    2. Sustainability means (for a PM) that we consider our thinking beyond the “product of the project” and into the operation of the product. This helps us plan more thoroughly, consider risks we mightn’t have considered. This is just ONE of many advantages of thinking beyond the product of the project. Also – sustainability has an economic element, not just an ecological one.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go put on my sandals and … does anyone remember where I put that protest sign? (*sarcasm*)



  6. Your list does exactly what most PM’s fail to do at the outset of a project!
    First and foremost, PM’s must clearly and detailed define exactly what completion and success is for the project and get all stake-holders to agree and sign off BEFORE you start the project!

    Then, throughout the project always review the document with all new team members and constantly make sure the project is aligned to meet the criteria defined.

    This one step alone can make a very bid difference in the outcome of any project…..

  7. Everyone, thank you so much for taking the time read this post and provide your feedback. I don’t ever want that blog that just speaks TO you and really appreciate dialog.

    Sam, that is a great point and one of my key reasons for believing that a top developer doesn’t make a top PM. To many functional experts can’t concern themselves with the big picture…how does ITs decision effect the Terms and Conditions (legal) and so on.

    Colin, I couldn’t agree more that various software offerings make the job of version control, collaboration, etc that much easier. I think what my pool of experts are seeing is that their management/organization isn’t providing them with those tools.

    I think managers should be reading this post to see how they can better support their project managers and achieve more efficient/successful project delivery.

    For the folks at , thanks for including my post on your site. Honored!

    Thank you so much! ~Robert

  8. Robert,

    Some very good points and I can certainly relate to

    Point 7 : Working across time zones can be very frustrating and often the one person who has to work around the clock is the PM.

    Hosting conference calls with a multitude of nationalities can also be challenging. Everyone has something valid to contribute but sometimes understanding the various accents and dialects can lead to the calls being 4 times as long as they should be.

    In relation to point 9, I have done the excel spreadsheet thing, though admittedly in my very early days as a PM. I now favour building a Project Management Information System in Sharepoint which allows me to, amongst other things,

    1/ have a central, version controlled repository for all documents
    2/ send documents to relevant folks for approval
    3/ implement a Change Management system to manage the lifecycle of the change request
    4/ create a project dashboard so that Senior Management may log on at anytime for a snapshot of progress. Certainly saves me time compiling report after report on a weekly basis as I used to do.

    Another very enlightening article. Well done.

    Kind regards,

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