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29/06/2020

9 Common Project Management Challenges in Software Development

Project management is marred with challenges at virtually every stage of the software development process. To ensure the project doesn’t fail, project managers (PMs) have to look out for several potential issues. Here are the most common project management challenges in custom software development and how these can be approached to minimize the risk of failure.

Project Management Challenges

1. Keeping everyone on the same page

It’s crucial to keep all the stakeholders informed and up to date when it comes to potential risks, given that the project may evolve over time. The PM must be able to communicate clearly to avoid miscommunication. Otherwise, mistakes will happen and fixing them may cost time and money.

Which practices can help avoid these problems? Informing relevant stakeholders immediately about changes or major issues that arise, especially if they affect the timeline. From the client’s perspective, this is key to maintain a trustworthy relationship and accept the situation. It’s equally important to track the status of backlogs and tasks and to make that tracking tool available to all stakeholders.

2. Defining clear goals and objectives

If the goals aren’t attainable, the team will quickly become demotivated and strained. Defining clear objectives is as important at the initial stage of the software development project, as when the project evolves. The client may want to change their requirements and it’s the PM’s responsibility to ensure the dedicated software team knows what needs to be done. Also, the PM should suggest changes to the project if he sees a better way to meet the goals and objectives - change isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

What are the options? Keeping daily meetings to verify that everyone understands their current tasks and how they fit into the bigger picture is essential. Make use of the variety of communication tools available to exchange information and answer questions on particular topics via dedicated channels. Slack or Teams may come in handy in this case!

3. Unrealistic deadlines

Nothing creates unnecessary pressure and stress like deadlines that are hard to meet. Once this pressure ensues, things are bound to go wrong: there will be errors and there may be conflicts within the team as well.

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How to set realistic deadlines? It’s key to plan accordingly! Talk to the Tech Lead before you declare the timeline to the client. The Tech Lead will have a good understanding of how much time is required to meet the objectives. It’s equally important to listen to the developers, know what they need and cooperate with them at every stage of the project.

4. Picking the right project management tools

It’s about matching the tools to the needs of your project and the team. Do your research and get to know your team before making the decision; there’s an abundance of tools, so you can be picky! Choose a tool your team is familiar with - if everyone knows Jira, opt for that tool.

The key thing to remember when making the decision? Choose a tool that will fulfil as many of your project needs as possible. By all means avoid using several tools for communication with the team, tasking and monitoring, as this will make miscommunication more likely. Centralization will be your best friend here!

5. Avoiding scope creep

Ensuring scope creep doesn’t settle in is crucial to avoid failure of your custom software development project. Scope creep in project management accrues when the scope of the software development project stretches far beyond it was originally set. Multiple small incremental changes that aren’t properly controlled, nor defined and documented, lead to the uncontrolled growth of the project. In the end, you don’t meet the deadline and the budget.  

What’s the best solution? Monitor changes and make appropriate adjustments on the go. If an aspect of the project changes and affects the timeline and budget, document these changes immediately and inform relevant stakeholders involved. 

6. Lack of skills within the project team

Without the right skill set within the development team, the project is at risk of failure and/or poor quality. Meeting the deadlines will also be difficult in such a scenario, so the PM must remember to appropriately assess the needs and verify them against the team capabilities. Any shortfalls must be addressed as soon as possible. 

What options do PMs have? The Tech Lead will be the best source of knowledge on the technical capabilities, so consult with them before you commit to a given project. Sometimes a project may be too extensive to handle, but skill shortages can usually be addressed through outsourcing, internal training or recruitment. In larger organizations, skill matrices will be helpful in verifying internal capabilities. 

7. Scope and budget challenges

Your clients may often be challenging the previously-agreed scope of the project, the proposed timelines or the budget. This creates risk of tensions with the development team, or with the client.

What’s the solution? Unfortunately, there is no pre-defined scenario, but it’s definitely important that the PM remains diplomatic in such cases. On the one hand, they need to keep the client happy, but on the other, they have to make sure the team accepts any potential changes to the project. The PM might often have to respond to changing client requirements, e.g. related to the budget, to ensure that both the customer and the team are fine with these modifications.

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8. Risk management

Risk management is something that project managers have to keep in their mind at all times. There are a lot of “unknowns” that can emerge throughout the duration of the project, e.g. carrying out performance tests that weren’t accounted for at the beginning.

What are the best practices work with risks? There are several risk management strategies that PMs can apply in their work, such as:

  • Minimizing risk - the chance of occurrence and impact as soon as it occurs,
  • Risk removal - doing something that risk will eliminate completely,
  • Risk transfer - buying insurance,
  • Accepting risk - communicating that there is a risk and not doing anything with it because everything is too expensive,
  • Risk monitoring - measuring/observing whether a risk has occurred, as well as adjusting plans, strategies and responses depending on the situation. Probably the most common strategy.
  • Avoiding / Hiding risk - the worst possible, meaning underestimating or concealing.

We recommend PMs should not hesitate to voice their concerns whenever they see a potential red flag. Do not beat about the bush, especially when communicating with the client. Mention the risky aspects of the project in advance and do it regularly - if the risk cannot be avoided, everyone will be prepared to mitigate it. 

9. Keeping the team motivated and collaborating

It may not be limited to software development but keeping the team motivated and making sure they collaborate is crucial to the overall success of the project. Internal conflicts or lack of motivation within the team may result in poor quality or make it difficult to meet the deadlines. Ensuring the team is working smoothly is also part of a PM’s job description. 

How to approach this task? Organizing periodic meetings after working hours may have a positive impact on the atmosphere within the team. When it comes to keeping the right motivation levels, remember to give feedback on a regular basis. It’s not just about saying what can be improved but also about praising the good work - it’s the best motivation booster. Also, make yourself available and listen to the needs of your team members. Help them develop on their professional path and hire people that are a good fit for the entire team.

This is the second article in our three-part series on Project Management. In our first article, we discussed the role of the Project Manager in software development. We hope you enjoy the read!

cshark_magda-balut
Magdalena Bałut
A Project Manager at CSHARK. Has an enormous passion to deliver tailored solutions to very demanding customers.
cshark_michal-gorski
Michał Gorski
A Service Delivery Manager at CSHARK. Delivery-go-to person with various tools and approaches such as Project Management, Scrum and Agile. Passionate about value, business goals and communication.
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