These are the top three problems all project managers face in their career:
- Your manager expects you to know everything about project management right from the beginning.
- You need to manage people, but you don’t have influence or authority over them. So, what should you do?
- Your team expects you to be a leader in all aspects of their professional and personal lives. But no one teaches it.
All in all, the project manager’s role has lots of challenges. The biggest problem is that you don’t know about them until a challenge hits unexpectedly.
You may have named one or two of them. But let’s review what happens across the board.
(I want you to make a note of which one is the most critical for you right now.)
Your PM mentor will teach you everything you need to know. Wrong! He’ll never have time for you. You are on your own.
If you got a mentor in the first place, you are quite lucky. That happens less and less these days.
However, there’s a common misconception that you can get the PM job and you’ll sort it all out in the process. And there will be other project managers that will lend you a hand.
This mindset leads to stress and long working hours on your end.
A great Project Manager always looks a few steps ahead. Your primary responsibility is to prevent problems. You need to understand what critical PM activities you should focus on right now and how it impacts the work months ahead.
A mentor may provide you with some quick tips. But he never has enough time to explain to you the big picture of project management in detail. He has his own projects, remember?
You ask concrete questions related to imminent problems. In most cases, it helps you to stay on the float and don’t get into a crisis. But it doesn’t contribute to your professional development.
Solution: Carve some time and ask your mentor about the whole project life cycle. Ask about the big picture of project management in this organization, including project integrations.
Everyone speaks about being a leader, but no one can explain how to do it on a daily basis.
The best help for you is a book on leadership. But there’s also a catch:
- You need to find the right book.
- You need to spend a few hours to read it through.
- Then, you need to try to implement it in practice.
- And somehow, you need to measure whether it even works.
Here’s the truth:
Every book on leadership I read contains only 10% of tips applicable to the project manager’s role. The rest is for executives, CEOs, Steve Jobs, etc.
Solution: The efficiency of reading books on leadership is relatively low for a project manager. You just need to grind through it or find someone who can explain it in simple words.
Each project has difficult personalities, and you can’t simply fire them. How to deal with difficult people on a project is a separate skillset.
That’s a section of leadership that you won’t find even in the books.
What’s worse, companies blame managers for the lack of soft skills when you can’t handle a difficult person on a project. Why?
People are the biggest asset of any company.
It gets even more complicated when you hire that person in the first place. It means you failed twice.
So, it feels like your hands are tied, and you have to struggle with such people.
Solution: Develop a set of interview questions that will help you select the right people. You need to test and fine-tune these questions all the time.
Also, learn the process of firing a person. There should be measurable metrics that can help you justify the decision. Follow it to the letter and get support from your leadership before you need to fire someone.
Your boss wants you to manage stakeholders’ engagement or even develop a client’s business.
When I talk about key stakeholders, I often mean people that have more authority than you do. Including your boss, clients, sponsors, heads of departments, etc.
Some resources on the internet suggest that your job is to do what the clients ask and make them happy. That’s a wrong approach.
It’s hard to understand, but your goal is to reach the project’s (business) objectives. Clients don’t see those objectives clearly most of the time. Moreover, the client’s objectives and your company’s goals are always different.
More often than not, it means that you’ll get into a conflict with some of the key stakeholders. It feels like you need to balance your loyalty between them.
Solution: Conduct Stakeholder Management processes in written form, not in your head. Prepare Stakeholder Engagement Plans and execute them. It means you need to make an assumption about a stakeholder’s engagement and try to validate it. Rinse and repeat.
You also need to learn how to navigate the internal politics. Even more, you’ll need to learn to do it in a professional and ethical way.
Scope Management is the most critical knowledge domain, but your leadership cares only about schedule and budget.
How often do you hear, “Did you get clear requirements from clients? Are there any ambiguities?”
I bet no one asks you that question.
On the contrary, everyone wants to know how much it costs. I get it. When they know it – they can charge sponsors for the project.
There’s a strong integration between Project Objectives, Requirements, and Scope Documentation. You can’t get accurate estimates if you don’t manage this flow of information.
In most organizations, you won’t find support for this. Your boss will want you to get through scope management as quickly as possible. He knows it’s important, but for a different reason.
That’s also another aspect of managing stakeholders. You need to educate them about the benefits of proper project management. Don’t assume that your boss is a better PM than you are.
Solution: Learn about the Project Charter, requirements documentation, Project Scope Statement, and Work Breakdown Structure. These are hard skills of a PM, and you need to learn them in advance.
I talk about it all the time:
You must know how to manage project risks from day one. Even worse! I think you need to bring this knowledge into your organization.
Lots of companies think they have proper risk management practices in place. In fact, they are useless.
Either you can’t communicate about the risks with clients, or you need to hide risk responses in tasks. Or the whole risk management process is simply inefficient, and you do it because PMO requires it.
At the end of the day, you just spend hours creatively rewriting risk reports, but they don’t help you manage the project risks.
But I see lots of career opportunities here because you can become an expert in risk management in such organizations. If only you could master the basics of risk management.
Solution: Learn and practice all risk management processes. Take the lead and develop the simplest workflow that suits your project at least.
Project Management is not a standardized profession. (None of the certifications prepares you for the real-world responsibilities of a PM).
Project Management Certifications come as the most frequent challenge, but I put it last to summarize all the other issues.
Here’s what other Project Managers face:
- I don’t know if I need a PM certification at all. Which one should I get?
- The exam for PMI’s PMP is tough. Is it worth the effort?
- I got certified. What should I do next? How do I use this knowledge?
- Regrets over wasted energy and money.
And here’s the catch:
Project Management Certifications certify that you have a certain amount of knowledge and experience. You have proven it with an exam.
They don’t help you handle your projects and current challenges.
Certification is a way to get a better job and negotiate a better salary. Sometimes, a certification program may help you systemize your vast experience. That’s it.
Here’s the hard truth…
You may even learn the best practices of project management. But it doesn’t mean that your boss and stakeholders will allow you to make any changes to the policies and processes. You don’t have enough authority and trust for that.
So, a certification has its time, place, and purpose.
Solution: Focus your efforts on learning your real-world environment, not the best practices that work in a vacuum.
It’s worth mentioning that I get lots of emails with a challenge that sounds like this:
I’m not a project manager yet, and I don’t know what to do.
If you are one of them, the biggest takeaway from this email is that you need to be aware of these problems. You need to get prepared for them in advance. Otherwise, stress and overwhelm are guaranteed.