Challenge 1: Poor Communication
Good communication has always been a sticking point for project managers, but it's getting even trickier to get right. Thanks to always-on technology and social media, an endless stream of messages are coming in from a multitude of channels. Which communication tools should you use, when, and for what purpose?
Taylor's Tip: Good communication means the right message, at the right time, in the right format. Consider all three aspects when you have something important to say. But before you hit send, also consider whether your message really needs to be communicated at all. Eliminating unnecessary or distracting communication will help make sure important messages are received loud and clear.
Challenge 2: Virtual Nature of Projects
With remote teams on the rise, it's important for project managers to understand that who you're communicating to is just as important as the message itself. We must always remember to take cultural differences into account, but great project managers also factor in the loss of other communication cues like tone of voice and body language. They consider how their messages could be read, not just how they intend them to be read. The use of emoticons and other informal language is becoming a common way to eliminate misunderstandings and foster good working relationships.
Taylor's Tip: Cultural differences go far beyond language barriers; they affect how people approach their work and what they value. That's why good people skills are needed now more than ever — not only to manage distributed teams, but also to effectively argue why you need certain resources, why particular tasks should be prioritized, demonstrate business justification, and so on. So don't neglect your soft skills!
Challenge 3: Constant Time Pressures
For project managers, the clock is always ticking. Time to deadline, time to market, time to achieving a certain ROI — all are expected to be fast, fast, and faster. Taylor sees expectation management as the key to success, since mismatched expectations mean wasted time. You need to thoroughly understand what it is you're expected to deliver in order to plan the most efficient path to delivering it.
Taylor's Tip: There's a difference between working hard and being effective. Don't create extra work for yourself by needlessly involving yourself in decisions, communications, or processes that don't really need your input. It's not only a poor use of your time and energy, it slows down your team!
Challenge 4: Executive Support
Taylor sees a lack of committed project sponsors as a major challenge facing today's project managers. But a big part of the problem is this: while 99.5% of organizations surveyed said they believe good project sponsorship is essential to project success, 83% admitted they do nothing to develop, train, or support project sponsors within their companies.
Taylor's Tip: Until organizations start properly supporting project sponsors, project managers will need to take it upon themselves to communicate their needs to their sponsors. Make sure your project sponsor understands how crucial they are to the project's success, what their role is, and what's expected of them.
Challenge 5: Strategic Connection
It's not enough to successfully manage your projects; you need to understand the overall business strategy connecting them all (what Taylor calls "strategic connection"). One-off or "orphan" projects only drain company resources, so overall business strategy should be something that's well understood throughout the company, not just at the executive level. Every project manager (and their team members) should be free to question whether or how the project they're working on contributes to larger business objectives. And if the connection can't be proven, the project should be halted.
Taylor's Tip: Project managers must move beyond the tactical approach of managing budgets, project scope, and everyday processes to a more strategic view, where they focus on how their project can deliver the most business value.
Challenge 6: Increased Complexity
Projects are becoming more and more complex. Taylor defines a complex project as one that has some degree of uncertainty either surrounding its process or its purpose: perhaps there are unclear goals, various political factors or influences, or the tools and processes being used are new to the team. Whatever the root cause, complexity often means increased risk, and unprepared project managers may be in for a struggle.
Taylor's Tip: Junior and mid-level project managers should seek out opportunities to work on more complex projects under senior project managers, learning all they can from the experience so they can confidently manage complexity in future work.
Challenge 7: Lessons Learned
Although each project manager and team member has personal takeaways from each project, they're too likely to internalize them and not share them with their colleagues. Even teams that actually have an internal knowledge base are often unsure what is (or isn't) helpful advice, a valuable template, a best practice, and so on. Plus, there's always pressure to start work on the next project as soon as the first is finished, skipping or rushing the process of reflecting, recording, and sharing potentially valuable information.
Taylor's Tip: Instead of trying to record all lessons learned from a project, ask your colleagues what information they would find most helpful. Do they want to know what risks others encountered & overcame? Start a knowledge base just for people to record the risks they experienced and their advice. Whether it's useful templates, effective processes, or project planning tips, find out what your team wants and focus on that.
More Tips for Today's Project Managers
Check out our interview with Peter Taylor to learn the new definition of project success, which types of projects are most costly for organizations, and much more — straight from the man himself.