Navigating Project Hurdles: From Phases to Delays
As a project manager, you’ll face a variety of challenges in getting a project from the beginning through to the finish line.
Knowing how to overcome these hurdles is what separates an effective project manager from a struggling one.
Fortunately, there are specific types of challenges that you can expect in each of the five phases of project management. By looking at a project phase by phase and identifying potential obstacles, you can be well-prepared to get your project back on track no matter what delays come up.
Phase 1: Project Initiation
Project initiation is the first phase of project management. During this phase, you evaluate the project idea and see if it is the best way to solve the problem it addresses.
If the project gets the green light, your team will create a project charter that includes scope, goals, and team members. You may also create documents that define how success will be measured, milestones, and timelines.
During this early stage, there are several possible delays.
One of the primary delays during project initiation involves defining and involving stakeholders. If there are disagreements about who the stakeholders should be, or limitations on stakeholder availability, it can delay the project.
To address this, consider what departments need to be involved. If the primary head of the department isn’t available, find out if another person could represent them during project initiation. Also, ensure that you only have essential stakeholders — every person added to a project adds complexity.
Disagreements About Scope
As a project manager, it’s important to carefully define the project scope. If there are disagreements or the stakeholders want too much included, it can delay the launch of the project.
Resolving disagreements about scope requires you to advocate for your team and resources. Let the stakeholders know what your team can do with a specific set of resources and members, and let them know that if they increase the scope, that includes increasing resources and the timeline.
Advocating for yourself and your team is challenging, but it’s a vital part of getting a project launched.
Phase 2: Planning
During the planning phase, your team works to create a roadmap of how the project will be accomplished. In other words, you’re figuring out how to do the project elements agreed upon in the previous phase.
Some of the deliverables include a Gantt chart, a milestone chart, a breakdown of work, a communication plan, and more.
What delays can occur during this phase? Here are a few to watch for.
As your team works to create a timeline and assign responsibilities, there can be conflict between team members. Many people remember what it’s like to do a group project and feel like others are not pulling their weight, so they may react strongly to perceived imbalances.
To overcome this problem, help everyone on the team see the vision. There’s a key problem your project aims to solve that will make life better for everyone in the organization. From there, help everyone understand the capabilities of each team member, which explains why each person gets the tasks they do.
Getting Approval For the Timeline
Another obstacle that can happen in the planning phase is a delay in getting approval for the timeline and other documents. Sometimes this is due to stakeholders being unavailable, and other times it's because stakeholders want a quicker timeline that is proposed.
To overcome these hurdles, see if you can assign a backup for each stakeholder. This allows you to move forward throughout the project and continue to get approvals and signoffs on updates. If stakeholders want a faster timeline, see what changes are possible, and don’t be afraid to ask for more resources if that’s what it takes to meet the need.
Phase 3: Execution
In phase three, you start executing the work. This requires you to assign resources, begin the plan, and set up project management software to help track responsibilities and assignments. Each person can begin work on their first tasks.
Phase three is the meat of the project and also the place where operational delays can cause significant problems. Fortunately, there are ways to anticipate and overcome these hurdles.
Communication problems are some of the most common issues that derail and delay projects. This might mean a lack of communication from one or more team members about their tasks, or conflicts or miscommunication between team members or with stakeholders.
The best way to avoid poor communication starts with listening. As a project manager, you can set an example by listening carefully to both team members and stakeholders. This allows you to get all the details you need and ask important clarification questions. It’s also important to hold regular meetings but ensure those meetings have a clear purpose and don’t last longer than they need to.
Finally, ensure you meet individually with team members so you can stay up-to-date with how each one is doing, especially if the team works remotely.
Lack of Resources
Another common delay in the execution phase is when resources aren’t available when promised. Perhaps someone is ill or taking time off you weren’t aware of. Or, there may have been resources you were counting on that got reassigned to another higher-priority project.
To manage these obstacles, connect with your stakeholders and let them know about the situation. Outline the impacts of losing resources and suggest some solutions. Get their feedback and see what they can do to help you adjust the project or get additional resources.
Phase 4: Monitoring and Control
During monitoring and control, you start to measure the impact your project is having on the targeted problem. You also want to continue to keep an eye on project execution to ensure your team is staying on budget and on time.
During this phase, you’re measuring key performance indicators (KPIs) that you expect to be affected by the project, and you’re giving reports on the project’s progress and impact.
Even though this phase may seem like it involves less hands-on work, there are plenty of opportunities for delays to offset your goals.
If the KPIs don’t match what the stakeholders expect, the stakeholders may ask you to add to the project or change it to improve the results. However, this can cause significant delays because it requires reworking the entire project plan late in the timeline.
To avoid delays due to this issue, it’s important to set clear boundaries for your specific project. If the stakeholders want other steps taken to improve results, it’s probably best to do another project in the future rather than change this one.
Phase 5: Wrapping Up Your Project
During the fifth phase, closing, you’re focused on documenting how things went and what you learned that can apply to another project. This is especially important if things didn’t turn out the way you expected — you can document what went wrong, what hurdles you struggled with, and what you might do differently next time.
Whether the project went smoothly or didn’t turn out as you hoped, completing the project is something to be proud of. Be sure to congratulate yourself and the team, and maybe even have a team dinner to celebrate. Tomorrow, there may well be another project to tackle!