Critical Challenges in Today's World of Project Management

Posted by Jason Kinder on December 27, 2018

Project Management Jason Kinder

By Jason Kinder, Director of Product Marketing, Deltek

Project management is a field that can be kind of hard to wrap your arms around. What, exactly, is it? What distinguishes effective project management from a failure or missed opportunity? And what qualities define a good project manager?

In truth, project management involves the effective use of people, processes and tools. But managing those three elements is both an art and a science. Often, that boils down to one factor: experience.

According to Deltek’s 9th Annual Clarity report, which shares market insights from over 630 government contractors from across the county, 34% of overall survey respondents identified inexperienced project managers as a key challenge, with nearly 20% identifying it as their number one challenge. That inexperience leads to other issues, including poorly defined project scope, forecast accuracy and declining maturity in the field of risk/opportunity management. 

We recently gathered industry leaders from around the country to discuss the challenges facing the project management discipline and how those challenges relate to Deltek’s Project & Portfolio Management Solutions. Their consensus was unanimous: now and even more in the near future, firms will need to focus on fostering a culture in which more senior employees share knowledge and mentorship opportunities with newer project managers, giving the next generation the opportunity to benefit from their experience while they are still in the workforce.

Inexperienced Project Managers

Per Clarity, the vast majority of project managers are age 45 or older—often they have more than 20-30 years of experience. As they start to retire, they are being replaced by millennial project managers who are new to working large projects and are growing in their roles.

That inexperience can be a challenge—and it can only be countered by creating an environment in which younger team members have the opportunity to be hands-on, fail in a controlled environment, learn from those mistakes, and grow. To do that, it is imperative to place up-and-coming project managers in roles that allow them to roll up their sleeves and start making contributions.

What steps can new project managers take to boost their careers? Getting involved in industry groups and associations and identifying related opportunities for training are critical steps. Additionally, seeking out formal or informal mentorship programs is a great way to benefit from shared knowledge.

Other Related Challenges

As I’ve previously shared, such a lack of experience leads to other issues within the project management community and the industry at large. These include:

  • Poorly Defined Project Scope
    Closely behind inexperienced project managers, 32% of respondents identified poorly defined scope as a key challenge. To achieve project success, we know that it is critical to clearly define scope prior to beginning any project to ensure the customer and contractor are driving to the same goals.  It is important to have project managers capable of acting as gatekeepers who can facilitate an appropriate level of discussion about scope throughout the process.
  • Forecast Accuracy
    Coming in as the third top project management challenge, at 29%, is accurate timeline forecasting. Up-and-coming project managers often need to learn to document their destination in a clearly defined road map—and to manage frequent communications on all levels to ensure understanding of what it will take to finish the project and how long that will take. Additionally, another inherent part of project forecasting is schedule management—and that includes not just employees, but often subcontractors who are responsible for a sizeable portion of the project effort. Forecasting, and the schedule management that comes with it, is critical to getting everyone on the same page and keeping all parties on task—but the ability to manage schedules effectively is often tied to experience.
  • Risk and Opportunity Management
    According to Clarity only 46% of respondents identified their risk and opportunity management as somewhat or very mature. Often, the project management industry doesn’t do a good job at managing risk. This year in Deltek’s Clarity Survey, firms of all sizes reported decreased maturity and a decreased emphasis on employing Chief Risk Officers.  Many of the situations that trigger a risk/opportunity initiative are reactive—major loss, damage to reputation, contractual requirement – instead of proactively addressing risks. The leaders with whom we spoke all agreed that risk and opportunity management relies heavily on experience and that this is another example of inexperienced project managers needing guidance and education on how to proactively manage risks.

From our discussion with leaders in the project management industry, it is very clear to me that inexperience is a common challenge throughout the project lifecycle. From ensuring clearly identified scope and forecasting accurately to managing risks, we have to do a better job of grooming our newly identified project managers and supporting their growth into project leaders. This can be done in many ways, from mentoring relationships and brown bag training sessions, to certification programs and education. But before losing the wealth of experience offered by their more senior colleagues as they leave the workforce, we must begin that process now.

About the Author

Jason Kinder is the Director of Product Marketing for the Project and Portfolio Management solutions at Deltek. He has more than 15 years’ experience in program management specializing in earned value and previously worked at Raytheon and L-3 Communications. Jason is also the co-author of the EVM and IPM for Dummies books (part of the Deltek Dummies book series) and holds a BBA from Stephen F. Austin State University