Common Challenges in the Project Life Cycle

The fun in Project Management lies in the challenges it presents. Project management is a juggling act they call “multitasking.” Any project has a beginning and an end and several phases in between. And, each stage of the project life cycle presents challenges for the career Project Manager.


Keep it simple!

Projects vary from light to heavy, short to long, and simple to complex. But, most follow a similar cycle: Start-up, Definition, Planning, Implementation, and Demobilization.

Still, it makes more sense to understand a project life cycle in terms of the risk each phase represents: For example:

1. Resource Risk - During the first stage of a project, project management has to determine the scope of the assignment, as well as the quantity and quality of the needed resources. Failure to get things right at this start presents the risk of being under-staffed, under-equipped, and under-funded.

2. Financial Risk - Project plans must be resilient and responsive. Managers have to be agile in terms of unexpected changes in assignment or obstacles to completion. Nailing the financial requirements accurately is central to this stage.

3. Quality Risk - Everyone involved needs a performance and outcome model. Every stakeholder needs a shared understanding of quality in process and execution. When the order is “go,” everyone needs clear direction, assessment, and coaching.

4. Risk Management - All processes come full circle, but they do not always cycle on their own. Project managers cannot wait to the end of the cycle to determine the risk. Risk is built into the process, and the process needs monitoring to stay true.

5. Closing Risk - Closing the door and taking home the tools does not end a project life cycle. Demobilization is a period of debriefing and dismantling ideas, processes, and resources, as well as equipment. Closing is the time to evaluate performance, improve process, and secure approval of deliverables.


It is also worth noting that some analysts suggest the value of an “Incubation” stage before the start up. Those involved in the Incubation would encourage cross-discipline and inter-functional contributions as dynamic values to undercut potential risks.


What could go wrong?

Under the right educated management, project management offers engaging and dynamic career opportunities. According to Tom Di Vincenzo, an economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, “To the client and upper management, project managers are the face of a project. They solicit input and provide updates from concept through completion. And to the team performing the work, project managers remain a visible presence for its duration. They motivate and direct team members to achieve the goal of project completion—preferably on time and under budget.”

This same dynamic exposes the Project Manager to a number of challenges common to almost every event, albeit in different ways and to different degrees:


  • Human: People in all their diversity present a multifaceted problem. Each employee represents a voice worth hearing and hands worth working. They implement and execute, operate and deliver. But, poorly selected, trained, or placed, they can limit success.
  • Material: Projects process material, inventory, machines, and robotics. It takes alert management and resourceful planning to manage and direct the integration and implementation of resources to satisfactory end-results.
  • Safety: Project environments require a culture of safety, one where safe performance is a quality issue. Safety sacrificed to expediency, functionality, and speed sabotages projects and their success.
  • Organization: Traditional, hierarchical, organizational structures do not easily make room for project management intervention. It takes effort, strategy, and expertise to blend structures comfortably.
  • Teams: Project management depends on well-conceived, staffed, and performing teams. But, teams are not easily or successfully formed in all organizations. For project management to work in environments without a team culture, the burden of preparation may not leverage outcomes.
  • Leadership: Project management is not a vertical responsibility. It needs a versatile, educated, and resilient talent to balance technical, business, and people skills. The project leader faces challenges from settling human conflicts to operating equipment to budgeting resources to communicating with stakeholders – and more.
  • Vulnerability: With risks surrounding every project, the Project Manager finds uncertainty an invigorating aspect of the career. The contemporary Project Manager understands risk and uncertainty have to be controlled from the start-up of the project life cycle. Knowledgeable and forward thinking comprehensive planning allows for variance, creates strategic response for contingencies, and builds risk-reduction into the start.
  • Metrics: Clear and tangible metrics define success. All stakeholders require meaningful metrics, so some may take take different forms. Still, all parties need metrics they can discuss, evaluate, and discuss. Despite the traditional value of finance and production spreadsheets, project management is a process-based economy. So, objective metrics must align with success as a process through customer satisfaction.

All projects risk disruption, reassessment, or failure. The Project Manager finds engagement and excitement in the challenges those risks present. The educated Project Manager brings confidence to the table, an expertise that offers demonstrated skills in systems, finance, technology, and people management. Project management may present constant and varied challenges, but success follows the Project Manager who enjoys the flow in the give-and-take.

Small, medium, or large project, the Project Manager sit at the hub of activity. The manager is creator, sponsor, steering committee, quality control, and team leader rolled into one. From start to closing, the Project Manager defines, oversees, and completes the project life cycle assigned.

To learn more about a degree in project management from Brandeis University, click here. –



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