7 Common Project Management Problems (And How to Solve Them)

It doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you can’t manage your projects, then you will struggle to achieve success.

To help you avoid that undesirable outcome, here are seven project management problems that designers and developers often face, as well as how to deal with them when they arise.

1. Your Client Gives You Vague, Ever-changing Requirements

Fickle clients can be a huge hassle. If a client doesn’t know what they want until a certain stage is complete, then schedule those decision points into the project as milestones. It is important to have a clear path mapped out from start to finish because it forces the client to be specific with their requirements, as well as keeping the project on track.

Be clear at the outset about what your task is going to be on the project and how much leeway is available. If you will need to be compensated for big revisions or changes in direction, then set a clear outline about the number of adjustments you can make before you need to charge more. If you can, quantify these adjustments with a number; it makes it much easier to keep track of things.

2. Your Client is Slow with Communication

People are busy, but it’s tough for you to move forward on a project if you can never get answers from the person you’re working with.

The good news is that you will drastically increase your response rate if you do a little bit of work ahead of time. Instead of waiting for the back-and-forth discourse to finally take place, simply start moving in the direction that you think is best and then seek verification. This strategy makes it easy for your client to quickly say yes (or no).

Here is an example:

Hi Mark,

Last time we spoke, you mentioned that we needed to make a decision on task X. I went ahead and started doing Y since that sounded best based on our previous discussion. If you’re happy with that, I can move forward and we can review the progress as scheduled on Friday.

Sound good?

– John

The beauty of this framework is that it shifts the client’s mindset from, "What decision am I going to make?" to "Should I say Yes or No?" Saying yes or no is much easier than thinking up a new solution (which, as the hired professional, should be our job).

Additionally, you will get a response much faster because there is now a time constraint on the work. If they like what you’re doing, then they will give you the go-ahead. If they don’t, then they know that they need to get back to you right away because, otherwise, things will be moving in the wrong direction.

However, it’s very important to use sound judgment. Obviously, you won’t be able to work ahead and then ask for approval on all aspects of the project, especially those that will cost a lot of time and resources to update should the client say no. That said, you’ll be surprised how much quicker things get done by making it easy for your clients to say, "Yes."

3. The Project Doesn’t Start On Time

Maybe you had a slow go of it last month, but now, you’re swamped. You know you need to take on the work when you can get it, but now you’re worried that you won’t be able to start all of your projects on time as you promised. Or perhaps your client says you’re a top priority — but tomorrow a different project becomes more important.

If the hold up is on your end, then it’s important that you do something to jump-start the project — even if it’s in a really small way. Give the client a call to discuss their expectations and set a more realistic timeframe for the first milestone. This could take as little as a few minutes, but it makes the client feel like things have started. However, beware of doing this more than once. That’s known as stringing the client along — they don’t take that too well, and for good reason.

If the hold up is on their end, then you need to communicate very clearly how that alters things moving forward. Be sure to let them know exactly how this change affects the completion dates of future milestones and you should check the revised schedule against other commitments with other projects.

4. You Try to Manage Every Project the Same Way

There has never been a project that has the same circumstance, requirements, and needs as another project. Situations, people, and goals change over time.

Instead of squeezing every project into the same template, spend some time crafting milestones specific to the needs of each project. Every job requires specific milestones that meet the schedules of all parties involved. Resist using the standard "2 weeks until X" type of thinking.

To put it simply, your schedule changes all the time, right? That means the way you plan your projects needs to change as well.

5. The Client Doesn’t Like What You Created

If this happens often, then there is a communication issue that needs to be addressed. Make sure you understand not just the technical requirements of a project, but also the underlying rationale of your clients. Why did they decide to do this in the first place? What are they hoping your work will enable them to do when all is said and done? How do they see your project fitting in with their overall strategic vision?

Good project managers create a shared vision between all parties. It’s your responsibility to understand the direction of your particular project as well as the overall strategy of your client — and then to make sure those two items match up.

6. Your Point of Contact Doesn’t Seem to Care About Your Project

Working on a project that isn’t high on a client’s priority list can be frustrating.  In some cases, the person responsible for communicating with you has little to no interest in your project. The completed product will have no direct effect on their job, they are hard to ask questions to, even harder to get answers from, and they provide minimal guidance.

This issue is best solved ahead of time.

When screening potential clients, do your best to find out if the contact person has a vested interest in the project. Pay attention to their awareness about potential problems or risks you could run into, their level of urgency when scheduling this project in their calendar, and their desire to communicate with you quickly and consistently from the beginning. If they brush these issues to the side, then it is worth your time to talk with someone else and establish a second point of contact before deciding whether to take on the project or to avoid the project all together.

7. Too Much Time is Spent Solving Problems After Projects Are "Live"

There are bound to be a few bugs here and there, but this is a classic problem caused by focusing too much on production, and not enough on testing. If this continually becomes an issue, then there are two possible solutions.

First, schedule in more time to test your projects from the start. Double your typical testing time if needed. Yes, it will stretch your schedule further, but in the long run, it will save you from the countless little problems that prevent your days from being productive.

Second, if your ongoing issues are a result of clients constantly wanting you to tweak something here and there, then you need to be clearer about what you do and don’t provide with your services. When you set guidelines with a client at the beginning of a project, you need to state very clearly that your work ends after the final product is created and handed off. This can be avoided by outlining boundaries at the beginning of a project that explicitly state that additional service after delivery will cost extra.

Putting It All Together

There are literally countless reasons a project can run into issues, but the vast majority of them can be solved with clear and frequent communication.

While it is easy to point blame in the direction of your client, it is your responsibility to consistently initiate contact and keep the line of communication open. This is about more than just talking to your client. Consistent communication is only created by active effort on your end. It doesn’t just happen naturally.

One excellent practice you can implement right away is to send your client a progress report every Friday. This could be a full report or just a short email. You should detail what you accomplished this week and what you plan to do the next week. Do this every week, whether your client asks for it or not.  Not only does this practice solve problems before they become too big, it will also make your clients love you.

Further Reading on Project Management Problems

What are some project management problems you have faced? How did you solve them? Share with us in the comments!

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About the Author

James Clear is the founder of Passive Panda, a site about earning more money, more time, and more freedom. Join Passive Panda’s Free Newsletter on Earning More to receive the 7-part Freelancing 101 Course and proven tips for earning more. Connect with Passive Panda on Facebook.