The Most Difficult Jobs in Project Management

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

Today, we will talk about the subject of the three most difficult yet the most important jobs in project management: management of requirements, stakeholders, and communications.

We all know that the project manager is a typical managerial position in a matrix organization. As project managers, all important things of project management need to be done and resolved by ourselves, even though we do not have substantive decision-making power, either to internal or external stakeholders. For example, we do not have the power to make decisions on the matter which is important to the client. Most of the team members do not consider us as real supervisors, instead, they consider their functional managers who give them the salary as their real boss. On the other hand, our boss probably would not 100% support our job, since they also have their own thinking and opinions.

The Most Difficult Jobs in Project Management

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1. Requirement Management

The first difficult job of project management is requirement management.

The requirement is the sources of the project. Without requirement management, project management would not succeed. Hence requirement management is very important. Because of the importance of requirement management and uncertainty of requirement and project, requirement management becomes the first difficult job in the entire project management process.

There are two reasons why requirement management is difficult.

Reason #1: At the phase of project initiation, we must know how to achieve the business objectives by accomplishing the product requirements.

Reason #2: At the phase of project execution, we must know how to control the change of requirements.

The biggest problem of project management is the frequent variation and changes in project requirements. If we submit change requests and follow the change control procedure whenever there is a request for requirement change, we would certainly waste a lot of time and expand the project duration significantly. Therefore, what we need to do is actually try to analyze the reasons for those requirement changes and try to understand the real requirements of clients. In other words, we need to try to limit the requirement changes from its source.

According to my experience, many requirement changes are caused by the fact that the requirement management process is not sufficient enough (especially the process of collecting requirements). Another common reason is that the project team has an insufficient understanding of the real requirements of the client, which would lead to requirement changes when the team realizes the problem in project execution.

2. Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is the second difficult job in project management.

As we proceed on the path of project management, we would progressively realize that managing people is much more important than managing requirements. When we encounter various problems during project management, after deep thinking we would realize that beneath all the problems there is a common factor: people, or as we call it “stakeholder” in management theory. Hence, The real nature of managing projects is in fact managing stakeholders.

The more projects we have managed, the more problems we would have encountered, and the more we would think about project management, and then we would slowly realize that managing various stakeholders is the most difficult part of management.

In detail, there are two main aspects of managing stakeholders.

First: inside the project team. The difficult job is to always keep the team’s morale up throughout the entire project.

Second: outside the project team. We have to satisfy the stakeholders of management and gain their trust. During this process, the difficult part is that sometimes the expectation and interests of the management are conflicted with internal team members.

Therefore, stakeholder management becomes the second difficult job for project management.

We all know that to our projects the satisfaction of key stakeholders (AKA. our bosses) is very important. There are two key success criteria of the project: the achievement of project objectives and the satisfaction of key stakeholders. Between these two, the satisfaction of key stakeholders is the more important one.

Not just to stakeholders of management, the stakeholders who we should also manage include our team members. Managing various stakeholders and their expectations are the real puzzle of project management. As project managers, managing stakeholders is a continuous process, and also a process of continuous self-cultivation.

3. Communication Management

The third difficult job of project management is communications management.

As we all know, the project manager is in fact a management position of middle-layer. As the saying goes: the comprehension of Hamlet varies from reader to reader. Therefore, for project managers, when we facing various information transmission among different stakeholders, different stakeholders would have a different understanding of the project.

The most painful fact is that our boss always asks if the project can be finished on time or if the cost of the project can be lowered, at the status reporting meetings. Meanwhile, our team members are always questioning the limitation of human resources while we are allocating a lot of project tasks to them.

The key part of project management is communication management. As project managers, we must have the overall outlook of the entire project. We would have to learn about how to call for help or encourage collaboration. When something good has happened, or the team is making significant progress, we would have to report to the bosses or show our faces more frequently. Only in this way our bosses or our management would possibly remember our project team and make recognition of what our project team has achieved so far. As a result, our bosses would be more satisfied and happy when we remind them to fulfill a promise which they made at the beginning of the project.

At last, the nature of management is controlling. We have to learn about how to control ourselves and influence others in order to achieve something good.

In summary, this article introduces the three most difficult and yet most important jobs of project management and gives some simple advice to project managers.

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