Project management, or PM, is vital when it comes to developing new products or services. This broad concept encompasses vital steps such as task planning, scheduling, developing, monitoring and giving regular reports on ongoing projects. In the IT industry, excellent project management is responsible for the success of the biggest organisations and tech products we know today, such as Google, Netflix or Amazon.
From my experience working in a bespoke software development company, I’ve learned that to successfully overcome challenges, dev teams should possess both technical knowledge about certain frameworks and adequate soft skills to communicate issues effectively and on time. While special types of software generate visual Kanban boards, dashboards and Gantt charts like Jira, ProofHub, Ora.pm, Assembla and many others, working in teams still remains challenging.
In this article, I give you an overview of five of the most common challenges to IT project management in 2021 and ways to get past them.
1. Remote Working Teams
It has been over a year since the pandemic drastically changed our work lives. Most of the companies that had the opportunity to achieve business continuity no matter the location chose to offer remote work as an alternative or even completely switch to a remote-first business model. Working from home comes with several perks for IT companies, such as lower operational costs (rent, utility bills, office food etc.), higher retention rates and access to a vaster talent pool. Many remote working employees even report increased productivity rates because they find it easier to concentrate on essential tasks without the usual office distractions.
Even though managing remote teams might be a win-win for some time, there are cases when it can be a stressful experience. One of the biggest challenges for remote working software development teams is scheduling meetings when various team members work from different time zones. This is also valid for shift work, and as soon as the pressure around organising meetings rises, the risk of communication problems also increases. Moreover, remote teams rely solely on technology to connect with each other, and the company’s culture might be endangered. Not to mention that soon after somebody’s Internet gets unstable, the call’s purpose.
How to avoid it: Make sure every team member is regularly updated by using collaborative PM tools. Connect on a personal level with your team members and offer to give them a hand if they are currently overwhelmed. After a challenging project stage, encourage everyone by stating their individual contributions to the team and thank them sincerely.
2. Lack of Soft Skills
You may think that this goes without saying, but the importance of strong soft skills is often underestimated even in 2021. While we’re still on the subject of remote working teams, a list of top 25 soft skills by Forbes is worth mentioning. Remember that no matter that the business environment is undergoing a significant transformation, no matter where your employees work from, communication will always be pivotal in project management. That is why you must deeply understand the key personal skills that might (at times) even outshine technical talent.
The top five highest-rated soft skills are accountability, assertiveness, teamwork capabilities, compliance and conflict management. Let that sink in for a moment while thinking whether or not these apply to most of your project managers and team members. The success of a software project directly depends on the intrapersonal skills of the team that will execute it. Skills like taking responsibility, being assertive when expressing ideas, negotiating effectively and remaining self-disciplined are essential while working in a team.
How to avoid it: Besides hiring only A-players that pass the interview process, observe the group dynamics among teams in your company. Create a safe work environment where everyone can openly express their interests, ideas and concerns.
3. The Link between Projects and Strategy
When working on a particular project in your IT firm, simultaneously, you also have a bigger goal on a company level. During the last couple of years, the trend toward aligning individual project goals with the company’s bigger strategy has occurred, resulting in adopting frameworks that help businesses grow. The challenge ahead of teams is to successfully carry out discrete project goals and translate them into an enterprise goal.
Doing this gets a lot easier if the company you work in has a clear structure with well defined long-term SMART goals. Goals that are not are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based usually just wishful thinking and don’t produce the desired results. Only after you’ve established your goals you can move forward with realistic expectations. Connecting projects with strategic company goals are challenging because it requires you to constantly switch between multiple contexts and understand things from different angles.
How to avoid it: While managing a project, always try to switch between multiple context levels and find touching points. Even seemingly different goals might relate to each other and make valuable contributions to the whole organisation, and it depends on you to see how they connect.
4. The Good Old Scope Creep
Do you remember the last time when a project was growing at such a fast pace that, at some point, your team somehow lost control of its scope? You set a deadline that is now long overdue, and somehow, your team still hasn’t finished developing specific features? If you silently nod while reading this, then you’re no stranger to the event called scope creep. It is a rather famous phenomenon in project management and refers to unexpected changes taking place that lead to the project’s scope being indefinitely stretched.
Scope creep might result from many diverse factors, but the essential aspect is that it causes major problems in project delivery, which can harm business partnerships. Some of the most trivial explanations for why the scope creep takes place are wrong priorities, poor time management, or simply agreeing on impossible terms to keep clients happy. Slowly but surely, this drains the team capacity and productivity and pushes the scope further and further after each meeting.
How to avoid it: As a project manager, be aware of your team’s resources and capabilities and don’t mislead your clients with unrealistic promises. Only commit to work that is achievable and to prevent scope creep.
5. Choosing the Right Project Management Software
Another potential challenge ahead of project managers is finding the right technical tools to match the project’s needs and deliver on time. In 2021 there are readily available software solutions that will help you keep track of your progress almost effortlessly. However, it is precisely why such an abundance of solutions might become a challenge.
Set up a meeting and gather suggestions from your teammates. Do they already have experience with some best project management system tools, and was it positive? Why, why not? These are quality questions that will guide you towards making the right decision.
How to avoid it: Give yourself a trial period and vote for a particular tool within your team afterwards. At the end of the day, if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, you know you’ve found the right PM software.