19 Real Life Project Management Challenges You Face, And How To Effortlessly Overcome Them

19 real life project management challenges that project managers face daily, and their solutions.

19 Real Life Project Management Challenges You Face, And How To Effortlessly Overcome Them

Being a manager is awesome.

But, being a project manager is hard.

Being an effective project manager is much harder.

As a project manager, you wear multiple hats, and you are sandwiched right between senior management and your team members—managing expectations from both sides.

This, in addition to dealing with forces from vendors, customers, project constraints, regulatory compliance, and even negative stakeholders.

19 Real Life Challenges Project Managers Face, And How To Effortlessly Overcome Them Click to Tweet

In this article, you will see 19 practical, real-life challenges that most project managers face on a day-to-day basis.

Chances are you are facing quite a few of them yourself. I share the tips to solve these effectively and efficiently.

I’ve based this on over two decades of my experience managing projects of various sizes and complexity across multiple timezones.

If you have a problem that is not addressed here, please do let me know in the Comments and I shall share my approach to dealing with them.

Before we deep dive, take a moment and share this article in your network and help those that may need this.

Ready with your favorite drink, and pen & paper?

The first thing to notice is that irrespective of the magnitude of the issue, they fall in one of these 9 Knowledge Areas (yes PMI has already nicely categorized it in the PMBOK guide!) –

  1. Scope – what work goes in to create the project output?
  2. Schedule – how long does it take to complete the project?
  3. Cost – how much money does it cost for this project?
  4. Quality – how do we ensure the output matches the feature and behavior expectations?
  5. Resource – what type of resources (people and physical) and how much of them are needed?
  6. Communications – how do we exchange data, information, and artifacts among people?
  7. Risk – what can go wrong, how do we identify their occurrence, and how do we deal with them?
  8. Procurement – what are the things we require from outside to execute this project?
  9. Stakeholder – who are all involved in the project, and who can influence the project outcome?

Yes, I hear you.., there are 10 knowledge areas in PMBOK!

The one we left out here is Integrationwhich is an all-encompassing oversight area for the project manager—covering right from the initiation stage of the project till completion of it.

And issues you face there belong to one of the above 9—most likely stakeholder, communications, or resources.

Let us look at the most common project management issues you face on a daily basis (in no particular order), and how you can deal with them.

Let’s jump right in!

Quick links

  1. Project management challenge #1: Confusion About Project Goal
  2. Project management challenge #2: People Conflicts
  3. Project management challenge #3: Lack of Communication
  4. Project management challenge #4: Inaccurate Estimates
  5. Project management challenge #5: Scope Creep
  6. Project management challenge #6: Inadequate Project Budget
  7. Project management challenge #7: Resource Unavailability
  8. Project management challenge #8: Project Management Software
  9. Project management challenge #9: Scheduling Conflicts
  10. Project management challenge #10: Managing Expectations
  11. Project management challenge #11: Skills of Team Members
  12. Project management challenge #12: Risk Management
  13. Project management challenge #13: Missing Accountability
  14. Project management challenge #14: Insufficient Interaction with Stakeholders
  15. Project management challenge #15: Unreasonable Deadlines
  16. Project management challenge #16: Lack of Teamwork
  17. Project management challenge #17: Workflow Management
  18. Project management challenge #18: Lack of Ownership
  19. Project management challenge #19: Resistance to Change
  20. Summary

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Project management challenge #1: Confusion About Project Goal

Wherever there is no clarity, there is confusion. With confusion, no amount of information, process, or systems will work.

A project has one or more objectives.

These are usually talked about and documented right at the beginning of the project when you create the Project Charter.

Sometimes, objectives get refined or changed even after the project is underway. That’s okay.

How do you deal with this?

The project manager needs to first ensure that the project goal and objectives are documented unambiguously.

Then provide clarity about how the project is gearing towards achieving them, to the team and stakeholders through effective communication.

Next, ensure that KPIs are aligned with the project goal and objectives, so people work cohesively towards achieving them.

Then the project manager must ensure that the processes, plans, tools, and artifacts support the achievement of the project goal, and stated objectives.

The right quality measurement metrics, right quality processes, and proper measurement tools are to be put in place to ensure the output and outcome of the project meet project objectives.


Project management challenge #2: People Conflicts

Bruce Tuckman shares 5 stages of team development

  • Forming – the team comes together
  • Storming – clash of ego, personality, seniority, confusion of role, and other aspects
  • Norming – development of understanding and rapport
  • Performing – working together, team synergy gets things done
  • Adjourning – team disbanded and allocated to other projects
19 real life project management challenges that project managers face daily, and their solutions.

Figure: Tuckman’s stages of team development (image courtesy wikipedia)

It’s natural for a team to undergo these stages.

The Storming stage is crucial from the perspective of project success, and it depends on how well the previous stage, that is Norming, has happened.

Personality traits, seniority attitude, and above all lack of trust in the team lead to conflicts among the team members. This impacts the quality and timeliness of the project. This, in turn, affects cost, schedule, and ultimately the project objectives.

How do you deal with this?

As a project manager, you need to ensure the team goes through these stages smoothly. Only then, does a good, trusting culture sets in the project. This is essential to get things done.

Here are 8 things to consider as a project manager:

  1. Make sure everyone on the team understands project goals and objectives
  2. Create a team charter—this outlines expectations from the team as a whole and individual team members
  3. Create a roles and responsibilities chart—ensure everyone understands the expectations from them
  4. Set KRAs and KPIs for all team members—help them achieve them
  5. Take care of the training needs of the team members
  6. Align individual growth path with that of the project and organization
  7. Create an environment of trust in the team
  8. Create a learning environment—where tacit and explicit knowledge is shared freely


Project management challenge #3: Lack of Communication

PMI conducted a survey that found that the project manager spends over 90% of time and effort in communications!

That’s a lot of time.

And still, most of the disasters on the project can be traced back to miscommunication, lack of communication, and in some cases even over-communication.

How do you deal with this?

It all starts with identifying the right stakeholders and assessing their communication needs.

You don’t want to miss out on certain key stakeholders. Then even a great communication plan will not be useful.

Naturally, the next step is to have an effective communication plan that uses the right medium of communication with the right stakeholders to share the right information at the right time.

Also read:

Project management challenge #4: Inaccurate Estimates

Estimates are usually done by people that are not actually doing the work.

This is not a good practice but happens due to the lack of availability of the entire team during the planning phase.

This, in combination with the fact that the scope of the work changes over time, leads to inaccurate estimates.

Some estimates are complex, while some are not possible due to unclear requirements or unavailable resources required for the work.

Estimates are rarely accurate, but they need to be as close to reality as possible. The practice of padding estimates to make for lack of clarity is a recipe for disaster.

This leads to conflict in the team, missing deadlines, poor quality, and customer dissatisfaction.

How do you deal with this?

Here are a few practices you can use as a project manager,

  • Put your best people on requirements collection. Make sure you talk to the right stakeholders to get the requirements.
  • Ensure all requirements are documented.
  • Get a point-of-contact for requirements clarification from the customer’s side and ensure their availability when your team needs it.
  • Get help from SMEs, Quality assurance experts, and even customer experts during estimation exercises. They can help avoid assumptions.
  • Document any assumptions, risks, and level of confidence in each estimate.
  • Involve people who will carry out the work in the estimation exercise. They should not feel that estimates are forced upon them.
  • Use the right estimation techniques—Planning poker and Sprint velocity for Scrum, Function Points for Predictive approach, for instance.

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Project management challenge #5: Scope Creep

Have you faced this situation, where a customer wanted a small change, and then it leads to a cascade of changes?

Such as a change in the color of a button leading to changes in all other screens, the support document screenshots, and changes to vendor product integration and such.

When a seemingly small change leads to cascading changes in the project that impact your cost, time, and/or scope baselines – you have a Scope creep episode.

Such changes are very common in most projects, and one of the primary causes of delivery disruptions.

How do you deal with this?

An impeccable change management process is your first step towards avoiding scope creep.

But even before that, you need to ensure that the requirement collection process is well-defined and well executed!

And for that, you need to identify the right stakeholders responsible for giving you the requirements. Usually, this is a mix of business users and end users. No matter what the business user (client) says, it’s your job to make sure that you have the right requirements collected.


Project management challenge #6: Inadequate Project Budget

It is not unusual to have a project budget cut.

Or situations such as “that’s all the budget we have, but we can’t compromise on quality or scope!”, or “our customer’s VC has pulled out“.

At times, it could be just a stingy customer.

Budget and resource constraints are universal, especially if you are working with cutting-edge technologies needing high-demand skill sets.

How do you deal with this?

This comes down to the skills of a project manager.

A few things you can do to reduce costs or deal with a situation where the budget is pulled back:

  • Educate stakeholders about the process of estimation and complexity of work
  • Work with them for alternatives when they come to you with demands
  • Constantly look for an alternative, cheaper resources, or vendors
  • Push back on unreasonable expectations by stakeholders
  • Work on resource leveling and resource smoothing
  • Be open to scope reduction for faster delivery
  • Look out for automation and other tools


Project management challenge #7: Resource Availability

Complex projects will have a dependency on multiple resources for many activities.

Some of these are with external vendors, contractors, agencies, and consultants, and for some (such as skill set) you have to negotiate with key stakeholders.

Factors such as budget, quality of raw material, time of availability, and location of availability play an important role in whether resources are allocated well, and allocated in time for the scheduled activities to be completed.

How do you deal with this?

A lot of this depends on the effectiveness of the Planning phase.

Identification of resources (physical as well as people) for the identified activities, for instance.

Once this is known, then you can work out vendors, schedule, and other aspects (make or buy) of resource procurement.

At the same time, risk identification related to resources is to be identified, and mitigation strategies are worked out.

Regular check on resources for the current and future tasks is essential to ensure tasks are carried out on time.

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Project management challenge #8: Project Management Software

While it is true that good project management software enhances the speed of execution and decision-making ability of the project manager, a bad one creates unnecessary impediments to the project.

I used to work for a company that had an in-house developed project management tool. It was mandatory for project managers to use it to manage projects.

Unfortunately, the tool had a lot of defects and about 30% of my time would be spent fixing issues and working with that team!

Sometimes using a simple spreadsheet makes it easier to manage the project.

More often than not, you will have the freedom of using a project management tool, and many are available for free. Especially if you are managing an Agile project.

How do you deal with this?

First, make a note of all the capabilities you need for your project.

Typically, you need budgeting, scheduling, tracking, communication, and reporting capabilities in project management software.

If you have a mandate to use a certain project management software, then you don’t have much of a choice.

But if you can use one of your choices, or even recommend one, then do your research.

  • Talk to other project managers in the organization
  • Talk to project managers on open or industry forums
  • Talk to the sales team of software products for the demo

Once chosen manage the learning curve well to get your RoI as quickly as you can.


Project management challenge #9: Scheduling Conflicts

Scheduling is an important part of work execution.

In spite of having everything in place, a simple schedule overload can have a ripple effect that might impact the critical path and delay the project completion date.

How do you deal with this?

Identifying task dependencies and sensible resource loading will ensure scheduling is done more realistically.

A good resource management tool and scheduling tool would help you identify potential bottlenecks ahead of time.

Keeping decision-making stakeholders in the loop will help you get resources on time and avoid pressure on schedule.

Finally, regular risk assessment exercises will also help identify issues with the schedule, as it’s a team exercise and people will be able to share their perspectives and give data inputs.


Project management challenge #10: Managing Expectations

This one is big for a project manager, although an underrated aspect of project management.

Most of the issues at the team level come from mismatched expectations.

A brilliant coder may not take interest in the project, and you will come to know that his previous project manager promised him a role that your project is not providing, for instance.

How do you deal with this?

Simple, have and set the right expectations. 🙂

  • You must understand the expectation of the management, vendors, customer – every stakeholder has from you.
  • Each member should understand the expectations you have from them.
  • You must make sure each stakeholder understands the expectations you and your team have from them.
  • Availability of resources, timelines, commitment, payments, and training, all are based on certain expectations that must be met.
  • Once you handle these successfully, you’ll have a much easier time managing the project.


Project management challenge #11: Skills of Team Members

A project needs a varied skill set, and with so much demand for them, it becomes difficult for a project manager to acquire a team meeting all the skills.

At times the timelines to acquire the team are decided by the date of billing, and hence people with insufficient or incorrect skills are brought on to the team. At times, these decisions are taken keeping the future needs of the project in mind.

Such an arrangement creates multiple problems for the team.

  • Some team members are asked to teach others, in addition to their own work
  • Few members of the team require to take up the work of other members
  • Sense of disharmony in the team due to this imbalance
  • Burnout of few members with constant work
  • Lack of motivation in talented members

Such problems need to be corrected as soon as possible to contain long-term damage. Skilled team members in such situations usually do not look for a change of project, they look for a change of company.

Thus, the organization loses out on its talent pool.

How do you deal with this?

The project manager has to balance the needs of the business, the needs of the project, and the needs of the people.

These 2 are not always in sync, and it’s just the nature of the project dynamics.

The project manager should be able to push back on any decisions that damage the project in the short as well as long term.

Many projects recruit more people than needed, by adding junior members that are expected to learn on the job and improve their skills.

This is a strategy that will help the project, customer, as well as organization.

This is an area where a project manager’s soft skills, such as communication, persuasion, negotiation, and networking skills are put to test.


Project management challenge #12: Risk Management

Risk management is one of the easiest as well as the hardest areas to cover for project management.

Easiest because risk management is a team exercise. Having the right mix of SMEs, a mindful team, and external experts, most of the known unknowns (threats and opportunities)—termed as risks—can be identified.

Hardest, because of a couple of reasons –

  1. There are no immediate and visible repercussions of not doing risk management
  2. Many teams do a great job at identifying risks but miss out on execution

When risk management is not done effectively, the project risk goes up exponentially. Even a well-executed project work may not lead to successful completion when risk management is subpar.

How do you deal with this?

Risk identification is an ongoing exercise and team exercise. Identifying this, the project manager must make this a routine, recurring practice.

  • Also, each risk identified should be logged in the risk register.
  • A risk handler has to be identified and assigned.
  • The symptoms are to be logged.
  • The risk-handling strategy should be identified.
  • A contingency and management budget should be allocated.

Risk management is the responsibility of all the stakeholders, and the project manager is accountable for risk management.


Project management challenge #13: Missing Accountability

Many people confuse accountability with responsibility. These two are different, but at the same time, you cannot expect one from a person without giving the other.

Accountability is defined as an assurance that a person or company is going to be evaluated on their performance related to something for which they are responsible.

Responsibility is defined as the state or fact of being answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management.

It goes without saying then that when you hold someone accountable for a task, you should give them the responsibility AS WELL AS authority to take decisions.

The problem occurs when all these are not defined, and accorded to a person, before expecting them to be responsible and accountable for the outcome.

How do you deal with this?

The role of each team member must be defined clearly.

Not just that, it needs to be communicated to them. It can’t be documented someplace that people are not aware of, or don’t have access to.

Next, each role should come with accountability, responsibility, and authority over resources and decision-making.

RACI matrix is a good tool for the project manager to define these.

RACI stands for Responsibility, Accountability, Consult, Inform.

It is a responsibility assignment chart among the stakeholders. It maps out all the tasks and decisions for completing a project by assigning people that are Responsible for each action item, Accountable for the outcome, and wherever appropriate, people that need to be Consulted or Informed.

  • Responsible – the one who does the work
  • Accountable – well, the buck stops here
  • Consulted – keep them in the loop
  • Informed – let them know

Each task in a tabular format has the names of people that are R, A, C, and I, as in the image below.

Please note that you can either use names of people, or role here. Alternately, you can have name/role as columns and denote R, A, C, or I alphabets under the appropriate column for each task.

RACI matrix

Figure: A sample RACI matrix

This is usually done during the project initiating stage and refined throughout the project as the need arises.


Project management challenge #14: Insufficient Interaction with Stakeholders

It is very likely that different stakeholders have a different understanding of the project and what is expected of them.

The project manager is responsible for keeping them all on the same page.

Stakeholder analysis and classification is an important exercise where each stakeholder’s level of interest, involvement, power, influence, and impact is measured.

As a project manager, you also understand their need for information – both from the perspective of the project (you don’t want to give certain information to negative stakeholders) and from the perspective of each stakeholder (you don’t want to miss informing critical information to a key decision maker).

When information exchange suffers, it may result in under-involvement or over-involvement of stakeholders. You need each stakeholder to be involved to the right degree so neither your project nor they become a hindrance to each other.

How do you deal with this?

The first step is to do a good job at,

Then the Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix and Stakeholder Engagement Plan are to be created based on the analysis.

Inviting key stakeholders to key meetings (whether you are following an agile, traditional, or hybrid approach) is essential to increase engagement.

When you facilitate the engagement with stakeholders, it becomes easier to approach them for help in times of need.


Project management challenge #15: Unreasonable Deadlines

How do you arrive at deadlines for delivery?

Does it depend on realistic estimates based on resource capability and availability?

Does it depend on external needs (“need this module for upcoming trade exhibition”)?

Certain stakeholders’ expectations from the project are transactional. They need the outcome, for example, to use as a supporting point for the next negotiation with the client, as an example.

As a project manager, you need to understand this, so you can adjust priorities to suit the needs of the business as well as the customer.

But it should not result in deadlines that are not reasonable.

Because they can easily result in,

  • Poor quality deliverables
  • Additional work
  • Loss of credibility
  • Employee burnout
  • Employee churn

None of them are good for the project or the organization.

How do you deal with this?

Two things are critical here. The project manager –

  • Arrives at realistic estimates (techniques and inputs)
  • Protects the interest of the project & people

4 points that help you manage deadline expectations, as a project manager:

1. Estimates to involve two aspects—estimated resources (people & skill) and then estimated duration based on these resources (junior developer takes longer than an expert developer).

2. Use the right estimation technique (Sprint Velocity for the Scrum approach and Functional points for the traditional approach, for instance).
More realistic estimates are better chances of adhering to them, and better chances of hitting given deadlines.

3. All estimates should have the appropriate padding and contingency reserves built in.

These are for known unknowns (such as the realization of a risk).

4. Management of resource loading.

You cannot have reasonable estimates at a task level, and load a team member with these tasks such that she has to work 12 hours a day against 8 hours.

When a project manager takes care of these aspects of estimation and arrives at the deadlines based on these estimates, then it becomes possible to hit them.

5. Finally, the project manager should not give in to the pressure from stakeholders.

This happens in the majority of projects, based on the ones I have been involved in, seen, and read about.

A good project manager knows when you push back, and protect the long-term interests of the people, project, and the organization.


Project management challenge #16: Lack of Teamwork

I have had teams where individuals have great skill sets, and they are fantastic human beings, but as a team, they faltered.

This is not unusual to have as a scenario.

How do you deal with this?

Thankfully, this is easy to fix too.

We talked about Tuckman’s 5 stages of team development earlier.

First thing is to help the team get through the stages till ‘Performing’ with ease.

If you see the issue even then, you can do a few things:

  1. Have a one-on-one with every team member. Understand their expectations from yourself, and from others in the team. This tells you what may be brewing. Chances are, some of them feel this is not the right project for them.
  2. Conduct a team-building exercise. This is a decision you can take after step #1. This is necessary to break the shyness barrier among team members and help them identify commonalities that hold them together and collaborate better.
  3. Do a SWOT analysis of the team itself. Do this with the team, share the findings with the team, and seek remedial action from the team. Make this about the team, and not about you or individuals.
  4. Strive to build a learning and trusting environment. A team will flourish when there is no fear or failure, no backlash for mistakes, an environment where they can learn and grow, and an environment where they can trust each other to ask for help when needed.


Project management challenge #17: Workflow Management

Workflow is important for smooth execution of project work, and a smooth transition across teams such as vendor team, testing team, and support team.

When people do not get visibility on the dependency of their tasks on others, or on others’ tasks on their own, they will lose the ability to work as a cohesive unit.

Moreover, if there is a delay in delivery, you will lose more time trying to identify the root cause, only to find that people didn’t have visibility into the big picture.

How do you deal with this?

If you are managing the project the traditional way, the Gantt chart will help you map the workflow.

And if you are managing a pull-based project, then the Kanban board will help understand the workflow.

Visibility into workflow across the team and stakeholder is essential. As this helps identify bottlenecks quickly and put in appropriate fixes to ensure smooth workflow.

You include Work In Progress limits (# of tasks taken up for work simultaneously) in Kanban, so that it will ensure the work gets delivered seamlessly.


Project management challenge #18: Lack of Ownership

Lack of ownership by stakeholders will reflect in many ways: not starting the day with the team, missing from team meetings, non-commitment to their tasks, not participating in team activities, and indifference to sharing their thoughts and opinions, to name a few.

This can be disastrous for the project and needs to be identified and fixed quickly.

How do you deal with this?

  1. Have regular one-on-ones with all team members. Notice and document any behavior that is off.
  2. Talk to previous managers and get a sense of the personality of every team member. This allows you not to mistake a personality trait for a lack of ownership.
  3. Set expectations from team members clearly, and understand their expectations from you and the company.
  4. Talk to key stakeholders and set expectations from them, and also understand how you can help them in order to get their commitment to the project.
  5. Build your network with official and unofficial power hierarchy within the company. This helps you get commitment and ownership from them during times of need.
  6. Look for ways to make people feel proud about what they have achieved in the project.
  7. Encourage free and fair communication among team members.
  8. Build an environment of trust and learning. Help people grow in their careers through your project.
  9. Allow people to take additional responsibility, and look at failure as an opportunity to learn.

All these will show the team and stakeholders your commitment to project success as well as their growth.

They will reciprocate by taking ownership of their work and going over and beyond their responsibilities to make things happen.


Project management challenge #19: Resistance to Change

People typically resist any change. That is human nature.

This could be an issue if you are transitioning a project from traditional to Agile. Or even if you are taking a traditional approach-based team and trying to manage an Agile project.

It takes a mindset shift to work in an Agile environment. You will see that even the senior management can have wrong expectations from an Agile team.

How do you deal with this?

First, educate people about why change is needed and get their buy-in.

Next, educate all the key stakeholders about the change implementation process if the change is not about going Agile. Explain the steps of change management and expectations from them.

If the change is about going from non-Agile to Agile, then educate key stakeholders about the Agile mindset, Agile practices, and expectations from the team.

No one can cause impediments for an agile team to work independently, and it falls on your shoulders to protect the team from this.

Training the team itself is also crucial. They need to be able to think for themselves, not expect the work to be allocated to them, and take responsibility for their individual decisions as well as the team’s decisions.



Being a project manager is one of the most fulfilling jobs. A project manager that is a servant leader is someone that commands a lot of love and respect.

While it is impossible to be the ‘perfect’ project manager, a good one knows that it’s all about constant learning, experimenting, and improving.

On a daily basis.

I hope these common, day-to-day project management challenges and their solution approaches have given you some insights, and even tools to deal with them. And in the process to become a better project manager.

You’ll get better as you try different approaches, and gain insights.

Which other issue do you face as a project manager?

Let me know in the Comments and I shall share my solution (I’ll add it as a point to this list with a shout-out to you) for you.

All the best!

Shiv Shenoy, PMP


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