10 tough project management challenges for client services teams (and helpful solutions)

Blog post image

You don’t have to be a project manager to experience the challenges that come with handling projects from start to finish.

Owners and agency leaders, like you, run into project management challenges on a regular. And it doesn’t matter if you’re large enough to have in-house project managers or handle those functions yourself.

Things happen – projects run off course, over budget, or exhaust your most valuable resources. 

If this wasn’t the case, project management software would be pretty unnecessary and not the industry forecasted to reach $9.81 billion by 2026.   

At Teamwork.com, we know project management and the real-world hurdles client services teams face. So to help you, we’ve pulled together 10 common project management challenges and solutions you can implement right away.

Resource thumbnail

Add detail to your projects with Tasks

Break down projects to a granular level using Teamwork.com’s flexible task management capabilities. Assign work, add due dates, set priorities, and tag your team or clients directly within comments.

Try Teamwork.com for free

1. Assessing and addressing workload management

Workload management is a challenge no matter the sector. And it’s certainly easier the more physical the work is involved. 

For example, determining the average capacity of workers on an assembly line is somewhat straightforward – depending on the variances of your employees. But at the end of the day, averages are easier to determine.

However, the more creative the work and the deeper you go into professional services, the harder it is to accurately measure workload and capacity.

Even more so, it’s tough to then hold team members accountable to whatever metrics you’ve tried to establish.

Common reasons this happens

  • Agency or firm leaders haven't developed proper metrics for measuring workload

  • The nature of the work is hard to time or quantify, or similar tasks can vary in terms of the time required

  • There's a talent mismatch or gap in the team or not enough of the right skills or people to successfully clear the workload

  • There's a lack of accountability from team members stretching the truth with self-reporting in both work completed and availability

How to overcome this challenge

It’s harder to establish metrics for some types of client work than it is for others but it isn't impossible. Giving more attention to the metrics used can solve issues with assessing and addressing workload management in many cases.

If the real reason behind your workload management issue is a lack of capacity, then staffing up and reskilling are also viable solutions. 

Another way to tackle this problem is by closely monitoring your resource planning when assigning new work to team members. Use Teamwork.com’s resource allocation features to not only monitor workloads, but to receive alerts when employees are at or under capacity, and to make adjustments on the spot. 

Blog post image

2. Avoiding scope creep from specific clients

Scope creep is what keeps project managers up at night. It's a persistent threat that somehow hides around every corner.

When the parameters or requirements of a project change midstream, project deliverables grow in complexity and go beyond what was originally agreed upon with clients.

Scope creep happens often and more times than not, it occurs from the most, well-intentioned team members. They see problems with the plan and want to fix them.

Or you as an agency leader wonder why something doesn’t have a certain functionality or make last-minute changes because of a recent ask from the firm or agency owner. Again — it happens. As an owner or an agency leader, you see scope creep from both sides: as the victim or as the instigator.

Common reasons this happens

Scope creep sometimes feels inevitable but dig a little deeper and there’s usually an avoidable reason. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Poor project planning, such as a scope that’s ambiguous or unclear, can lead to scope creep

  • Stakeholders sometimes add new demands after schedules have been approved and set

  • Stakeholders fail to provide necessary information during the project planning phase (or project managers fail to adequately collect it)

  • Sometimes, the project is simply too long and complex to avoid scope creep and might be better off broken into smaller projects (according to one PMI study)

How to overcome this challenge

So, what’s the melatonin-like fix for project managers to end those restless nights?

When you plan an entire project in advance, you’ll never capture everything perfectly the first time. This is reality – plain and simple. So the right move is to plan for it. Don't think of it as if you'll run into scope creep issues, but when it's most likely to happen or which client has the potential to cause it.

The best solution to scope creep is intentional iteration: you know something’s going to change, so set the tone with the team from the first meeting. Tell them that when something comes up that’s out of scope and they don’t think they can say no, surface that thing as soon as possible. 

If it’s worthy, then the scope (and, therefore, schedule) needs to be adjusted. If not, then the idea or feature or whatever is threatening scope creep needs to be killed on the spot.

Blog post image

Want even more help with scope creep? Use Teamwork.com’s Gantt Chart maker to get a better visualization of the project timeline. Or try breaking down projects into Milestones, so teams have goals or benchmarks to reach throughout the project so everyone stays on pace toward the finish line.

Blog post image

Take it a step further with Teamwork.com’s Planned vs. Actual Milestones Report and get insights into how your project actually progressed compared to your originally planned milestones. This lets you dig into why a project went off course and see why your projects keep hitting scope creep when originally planned. 

3. Creating and maintaining process documentation across all clients

Another common project management challenge similar to scope creep is successfully creating and maintaining process documentation that’s accurate, usable, and readily available across all clients.

While the project scope outlines what is and isn’t supposed to be done in a project, process documentation lays out how the work ought to be done.

Great process documentation allows new team members to get up to speed quickly, which is especially helpful when someone on your team leaves and you have to add someone different to a client.

It also helps serve as a measure of whether your team is doing everything according to the process. When a dispute arises, teams need to look to process documentation for the answer. 

Common reasons this happens

Teams benefit immensely from having accurate process documentation. So what stops project managers from building or updating it?

  • No real way to appropriately add detail to client files that are easily accessible and centralized to all on your team

  • Some client services teams are small (and that's totally fine!) and don’t have a process in place for how to create and update this material, or there's no accountable party

  • No one has defined a given process well enough to document it

  • Those who work in a project management role are too busy with repetitive task tracking to focus on more involved things like process documentation

How to overcome this challenge

The best way to overcome this challenge is to set aside regular time that team leaders can devote to process documentation. Honestly, the best project managers will find a way to make this happen. 

But the average team member will prioritize this function exactly as much as management pushes it.

Not sure where to start? 

If process documentation isn’t happening at all, you’ll need to start from zero. If that sounds like where you’re at, then your first step gets a little meta: first, you need to develop process documentation on how to document processes.

Blog post image

Better tools for the repetitive stuff that comes with being a project manager can also help. The math here is simple: when you’re spending less time updating tasks and sending repetitive emails, you have more time to do the important, creative work.

4. Managing client expectations

If you work with clients, you’ve probably seen or heard the saying, “Fast, cheap, good — you can only pick two.”

Every business decision is prioritized in terms of cost, quality, and time. But not every client understands this equally well. Even with great clients, managing their expectations can be a challenge.

Common reasons this happens

  • Failure to communicate realities (time frame, capabilities, limitations) to the client upfront

  • Clients change their expectations after agreeing on project scope (another version of scope creep)

  • Clients want more control than you’re prepared to give

How to overcome this challenge

Most issues with client expectations boil down to proactive communication. If you or a team member can clearly (and sometimes repeatedly) communicate on all critical points surrounding a project, you’ll stay out in front of client expectations.

Blog post image

As we’ve mentioned, this can be solved with proper documentation to ensure everyone is aware of the determined tasks, due dates, and asks. Creating a paper trail and properly documenting who is asking for what on a project is essential to maintaining a transparent client relationship.

5. Providing enough project visibility to all stakeholders

One of the reasons for several of the challenges in this list is that stakeholders don’t seem to have the vision for what’s involved in the project. Sometimes this is truly the stakeholders’ fault, but often it comes down to project visibility. 

If they can’t see clearly what’s involved, they aren’t likely to make the best decisions.

Common reasons this happens

  • Inadequate tools for presenting and visualizing projects (whether in project planning, update meetings, or anywhere else)

  • Project managers are unclear when giving verbal or written updates

  • Data is displayed in a format (e.g., Gantt chart) or based on a project management methodology (e.g., agile project management) that some stakeholders don’t understand

How to overcome this challenge

Aside from improving your own communication skills, using the right project management software (we happen to be fans of Teamwork.com, thanks for asking!) can be the difference-maker that turns stakeholders from disengaged to active through better project visibility.

Blog post image

In fact, we give our customers the option to invite as many clients into Teamwork.com to work together more seamlessly. Worried about a specific client derailing your project workflow with this type of access?

Easily set permissions and grant access to clients on things they only need, so your team stays focused!  

6. Consistently managing and meeting client deadlines

Agencies — especially creative agencies — get a bad rap for failing to meet deadlines. The truth is, this is a problem throughout the business world. 

And project managers have a frustrating job: somehow, they must cajole a team into meeting their deadlines and prioritizing work properly, but the project manager doesn’t have any real enforcement authority.

If you’re an owner or agency leader, you have a leg up here because you do have enforcement authority. Still, you can’t exactly tell that illustrator to just draw faster. It’s a real challenge.

Common reasons this happens

  • Team members prioritize tasks incorrectly

  • The project timeline has workloads that are not realistic

  • Agencies overcommit and take on more work than they can realistically complete

  • There are workflow inefficiencies

How to overcome this challenge

The solution here depends on the reasons your team isn’t consistently meeting deadlines. Better prioritizing, project planning, staffing, and learning when to say no all play a role.

Blog post image

This is another perfect example of when to use project Milestones to set benchmarks or “mile markers” to inform your team how far they’ve gone and what’s needed to finish. With Teamwork.com, it's simple to add necessary milestones to each project to ensure it successfully reaches completion.  

7. Having a reliable framework for tracking goals

Related to the very first challenge in this article, it’s tough to succeed when you don’t have a strong framework for measuring progress toward project goals.

No matter how creative the project or how elusive its completion seems, better goals can help. Make sure your goals are SMART goals so that you (and your team) can better know when they’ve met them.

As a quick reminder, SMART goals are:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-bound

Common reasons this happens

  • Failure to take time to set clear goals at the start of a project

  • Goals don’t adhere to the SMART framework (aren’t realistic, can’t be measured, etc.)

  • No one checks on goal progress during the project

How to overcome this challenge

Take a moment to evaluate and realign (if necessary) your goal-setting and goal-measuring framework around the SMART goal method. SMART goals might not be for everyone, but its foundational flow can really help teams understand what’s possible and what’s too big of an ask. 

8. Ensuring good team and client communication

We’ve already advised leaders to work on their own communication, but it doesn’t stop there. Your team needs to develop excellent internal and external communication between members and clients as well. 

It’s always harder to effect change in others than to change yourself, and many professional project managers have struggled to create a culture of effective communication within their teams.

Common reasons this happens

  • Naturally poor communication skills among team members

  • Miscommunication that harms team relationships

  • The work environment isn’t conducive to team-building

  • Unrealistic client deadlines or stakeholder dysfunction is harming morale

How to overcome this challenge

You can take little steps to improve the relationships and morale of your teams, like reserving time at the start of meetings for icebreakers and unstructured conversations. 

Blog post image

Also consider implementing a well-designed project management communication plan where team members can easily view, access, or comment on tasks or subtasks. Avoid the email blackhole for project details and ensure your team has everything to improve client communication and work across departments more efficiently.

9. Managing recurring tasks

Repetitive tasks are common in the workflows of professional project managers (and anyone currently fulfilling that function). There are plenty of software tools designed to alleviate the time lost to recurring tasks, but not all perform equally well.

For example, not all tools and software allow you to easily schedule or set up a project where you need the same task to complete multiple times. The best solutions offer you flexibility here, allowing you to do one of two things:

  • Have the task preset to reoccur

  • Create a template and manually pull a formatted version of that project or subtask for easier management

Common reasons this happens

  • Businesses rely on free or inefficient project management tools

  • Users don’t know how to automate tasks in their chosen apps or tools

How to overcome this challenge

So much of the repetitive work in project management can be reduced or even eliminated by using the right software tools. If your current tool doesn’t allow you to efficiently manage or set up recurring tasks, it’s hard to feel like you’re doing truly effective project management.

Teamwork.com’s Automations Engine is a new feature that was highly asked for by our customers and once you use it, you’ll understand why. The Teamwork.com Automations Engine makes it simple to automate tasks with a “When/Then” process. 

Blog post image

For example, you might need to alert specific team members or client users when a project reaches a specific mark. With Automations, you could set it to “WHEN a task is moved into completed, THEN notify these client users.” Or you could have it as “WHEN a task’s due date is five days away, THEN notify the project manager and team lead.” 

If you’re dealing with a ton of tasks each day, this cuts down the time you spend actually manually managing the project significantly.

10. Choosing software that’s designed for your client services team

There are dozens of project management software tools on the market. Most of them perform a similar set of core functions, but there’s a ton of variety in how they perform those core functions, as well as what they offer in addition to core project management. 

It’s important to evaluate whether you’re using the right tools that actually make sense for client services teams.

Common reasons this happens

  • Using spreadsheets to manage everything in an attempt to save money (in reality this is poor resource management and can be a project risk)

  • Using a tool or task management system that doesn’t organize work in a way that makes sense for those who manage clients

  • Choosing a tool based on a flashy ad campaign or cost alone rather than looking for the right fit

How to overcome this challenge

Understand that not every tool is right for every business. You likely don’t need the most expensive solution on the market, and you definitely don’t need a solution built for an industry you’re not in. 

If you’re stuck in spreadsheets, maybe it’s time to break things off and stop using Excel for project management and start centralizing your team across every project. 

Make sure the tools you use will complement the way you’re already working. If you’re using another project management tool, but afraid to make the change and disrupt your current workflow — we have you covered. 

Teamwork.com makes it incredibly easy to switch and move over current projects into our platform. When we say easy, we mean it. Most customers can port over everything from existing tools in minutes — not days or weeks. 

Our amazing customer success and support teams can help you make this a reality. Reach out today to see how simple and cost-effective a move to Teamwork.com can be for your client services team.

Resource thumbnail

Import your data from Wrike to Teamwork.com

Import your essential projects and data from Wrike directly into Teamwork.com within a few clicks. Make the switch in minutes – not days.

Learn more

Teamwork.com helps you relieve project management headaches 

As you look for the right software tools for your company, consider Teamwork.com for your project management needs. Teamwork.com helps businesses solve project management challenges at any complexity and at any scale. 

And it’s designed to work with you no matter your comfort level — whether you’re a project management professional or an agency owner. With Teamwork.com, you can:

  • Foster better, clearer team communication and know who’s working on what (thanks to excellent time-tracking)

  • Manage client projects (and provide them access to your Teamwork.com system)

  • Easily manage recurring tasks

  • Provide visibility through multiple project views

  • And much more!

See how Teamwork.com has helped agencies and client services teams like yours solve their toughest project management challenges: Read our customer stories here.

Related Articles
View all