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Top 3 Project Management Challenges of 2021

Photo by Priscilla du Preez

Few project managers have the luxury of working on one project at a time. In a survey of 220 industry professionals by the Girls Guide to Project Management, only 15 % of PMs handle one project singularly. Most (59 %) juggle between two to five projects, while an additional 15 percent juggle more than 10 projects simultaneously.

With project managers managing so many initiatives, they’re used to overcoming barriers and embracing change as part of the job.

Even so, COVID-19 appears to be causing more challenges than even the most seasoned PMs are used to dealing with — and this continues to be the case in 2021, year two of the pandemic. Here are three common project management challenges facing the industry this year and how you can solve them.

Challenge #1: Managing the Hybrid Environment

While at the start of the pandemic remote work seemed to be a temporary solution, in 2021 the hybrid work model, where employees are in the office only part of the time, is likely to become the norm, according to SHRM. This creates new communication challenges for project managers who are still responsible for keeping team members productive even though they’re not in the office.

Solution

The communication experts at 4PSA offer some tips for managing remote workers to keep projects on schedule:

  1. Agree on expectations from the start. This way everyone is on the same page with regards to their schedule, preferred methods of communication, and other vital information.
  2. Keep all information on projects accessible. Meeting notes, informal discussions, and project reviews should all have a “paper” trail in a digital system.
  3. Make sure you have the right communication tools to balance remote and in-person workers.
  4. Balance accountability and micromanagement. There’s a clear difference between checking in and obsessively monitoring.

These guidelines will not only help your projects in the short term by improving communication and tracking but also in the long run, as they will help employees stay connected, feel supported, and remain engaged so you can retain your top talent.

Challenge #2: Remote Work Progress Tracking

As the workplace becomes more flexible and team members clock in both remotely and in the office, time tracking has become more important than ever in 2021. The more scattered employees are, the harder it becomes for project managers to track progress, identify and correct potential challenges early on, and establish proper workflows. Transparency into how team members are spending their time can help solve these challenges.

Solution

As more project managers implement time tracking policies this year, they should look for time tracking tools that make it easier for employees to log their hours and can sync with other task management programs for seamless implementation. Savvy PMs will create training materials to acclimate workers to these new processes.

It may take time for employees to get used to logging their work hours, but these efforts can pay off in a big way, as time tracking allows project managers to set accurate timelines and outsource if needed to prevent overworking team members. In this way, it’s a win-win for both parties.

Challenge #3: Managing Unpredictable Budgets

Not only do project managers often manage multiple projects, but they also have to juggle multiple budgets. With the pandemic throwing off the financial planning of many organizations, keeping budgets in flux over the next year or two, this is likely to be more of a challenge than ever for PMs.

“If we start from last year with the pandemic, comparing your actuals to your budget [was] pretty much meaningless,” says Gina Gutzeit, CFO at FTI Consulting, in the Wall Street Journal. In the same way that business owners couldn’t compare 2020’s sales numbers to those from 2019, it doesn’t make sense to compare 2021 to 2020. The numbers alone don’t paint a clear picture of why they are higher or lower.

As a result of these uncertainties, the Wall Street Journal reports, some companies are reviewing their spending budgets more frequently. Instead of analyzing budgets annually and quarterly, teams are making budget adjustments monthly. This means a project can potentially experience a significant budget increase one month and face a budget cut the next.

Solution

Constant budgetary changes create problems for project managers whose project timelines are dependent on resources; it’s nearly impossible to predict the course of projects if you don’t know how much money your team will have next month. This year, project managers should expect to take things one month or one quarter at a time — depending on forecasting frequency. If possible, get more involved in the financial details of the company you work for, and with precise budgetary tracking vital during these times, consider investing in a bookkeeping class and more sophisticated budgeting software.

Successful Project Managers Keep Learning

While the pandemic has brought its fair share of challenges in 2021, seasoned project managers understand their field is a constantly evolving one and that every challenge brings opportunities. If you want to lead your teams effectively in 2021, the steps you take today will not only help your team thrive in the current environment, but they will also help you grow your skills and improve your tools as project managers in the years to come.

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