7 Ways Project Managers Can Anticipate, Avoid and Mitigate Problems

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Experts identify the most common (and frustrating) issues project managers must constantly tackle and what steps they can take to avoid or minimize these problems.


What separates the good, or the great, project managers (PM) from the just so-so? The answer: How they handle problems when they arise and they prevent them from derailing deadlines and the budget.

Her are seven of the biggest (or most common) problems that PMs face, and what good ones can do to anticipate, avoid or mitigate them.

Problem No. 1: Team members not knowing or understanding what their responsibilities are, not owning their part of the project.

How a good PM handles the accountability problem: Good project managers let team members know, up front, who is responsible for what – and clearly lay out expectations.

“Proactively setting up the decision-making structure, including where all the key stakeholders fit in, is critical,” says Tom Treanor, director of Content Marketing & Social Media at Wrike, a provider of project management software.

“One way IT PMs do this is by using a RACI chart where each stakeholder is clearly labeled as one of the following: R = responsible for performing the work of the project, A = accountable for the project results, C = consulted about aspects of the project, or I = informed about the project.”

Problem No. 2: Having key personnel pulled off the project, either temporarily or permanently.

How a good PM handles resource-related issues: “Exceptional IT managers are masters at balancing supply (resources) and demand (break/fix issues alongside the project),” says Liz Pearce, CEO, LiquidPlanner, a project management solution. One way they do this, she says, is by using a “project management system that provides resource visibility and forecasting tools, so PMs can [quickly make decisions, re-allocate resources and] ultimately reduce schedule thrash.”

Another way good project managers deal with team members being pulled in multiple directions? By convincing management that removing a vital team member could delay the project (or worse).

“I know I won't win the fight to keep my best developer [or pick your key team member] without facts,” says Steve Caseley, a project manager and a trainer for CBT Nuggets, an IT certification training company. “So I rework my schedule accordingly and then present the boss with the impact assessment, [explaining] my project will now be two weeks late and over budget by $45,000 due to the loss of subject matter expertise and learning curve [of his replacement].” The result: “This fact-based impact assessment will often be enough to reverse the decision.”

Problem No. 3: Meeting deadlines.

How a good PM deals with (often shifting) deadlines: To avoid missing deadlines, “I assign my team members specific deadlines for their parts of the project – and the dates I give are always much earlier than I actually need [whatever],” says Ashley Schwartau, creative director, Production, The Security Awareness Company. “That way if something needs to be [fixed], there is plenty of time for changes and another review.”

In addition, it helps if you can break the project into manageable chunks, or milestones, with each chunk or milestone “spaced enough to give you time to make changes before final delivery.”

Problem No. 4: Scope creep.

How a good PM deals with scope creep: “Changes affecting requirements almost always stop projects in their tracks,” notes Jun Bucao, PMP, senior project/program manager, HP Technology Services Consulting. “A good PM will need to document the change, validate, assess its impacts, find a solution and have the change request approved before executing the solution,” he says.

“A great PM, however, will do proactive risk and quality management throughout; and not just react to changes,” Bucao argues. “During planning, the PM ensures that all critical stakeholders, e.g., sponsor, SMEs, end-users or other persons of influence, are identified and stayed engaged to minimize surprises and keep future variances at minimum to none.”

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