What are the key stressors for project managers that cascade over time, causing them to quit? Learn about this and how technology can optimize processes and their workloads.

It’s 7 AM and Tim is making breakfast. A project manager at an IT services firm, Tim’s had quite the week at his workplace and he’s deep in thought about how he’s going to navigate the day. Lately, he’s been feeling like he’s set up to fail. Although the business is celebrating the win of two new clients, he’s worried about which team members he would allocate to these projects. While he’s trying to keep calm for the sake of his direct reports, planning the work breakdown structure, especially after seeing how his team is already overworked, is undeniably sending his blood pressure through the roof.

He has a gnawing feeling that his two most senior, efficient, and reliable team members, Linda and John are about to quit. Linda has been constantly warning the higher-ups about the constant, unexpected changes in the project scope and conflicting priorities, thanks to the timelines of the project she’s been assigned. And John has mentioned that he is feeling highly stressed because his role in the current project involves managing both the operational AND technical aspects of work. Tim knows not enough has been done by the organization to address these concerns.

As he makes coffee, Tim’s thinking about the classic project management nightmare he’s been facing: being held accountable for the performance of multiple projects over which he does not even have enough control. His to-do list today will involve collecting information to build the project plan (always a sore point for him), apart from a whole slew of client calls. Dreading one of these calls, Tim recollects an escalation he is trying to resolve stemming from a faulty estimate by a team member. Ding – perfect, while he was lost in thought, the toaster popped out two charred pieces of toast. He’s had 6-work challenges playing through his mind and this is just the first hour of his day.

Project management is cited consistently as one of the most stressful jobs. Project managers like Tim, especially those that work in project-based businesses, regularly attribute stress and burnout among the top reasons to quit. Although he has been adept at dealing with large workloads, when you put together all the individual stressors, there’s an ocean of stumbling blocks across which Tim can’t swim. Today might be the day he decides to stop going against the tide.

What’s stressing Tim?

So, what are the different pain points that cascade and make project managers like Tim finally call it quits? While the list is long as the story above reflects, we take a deeper look at 5 reasons why they are overwhelmed:

  1. The impact of constantly changing expectations and timelines on project plans: In professional services businesses, scope creep and overservicing could create an unsustainable mode of operation for team members. This leads to growing pressure on project managers to keep their people and clients happy while justifying the higher number of billable hours and lower realization.
  2. Issues that crop up due to inefficient communication: Project managers have to communicate with various parties – clients, offshore teams, third-party service providers, delivery team, leaders, and other internal stakeholders – across various media on a day-to-day basis. As a consequence, it’s natural for the chain of information transfer to break down at some point. In fact, communication breakdowns are noted to be one of the key reasons that projects fail.
  3. Managing perceptions that project managers offer limited value: Getting things done on time and within budget, while catering to the client’s expectations and adhering to all compliance and quality standards is a science and art which requires a structured approach to work. It is not uncommon for leaders to see project managers as inflexible or glorified trouble shooters who field all project-related complaints rather than seeing them as strategic value creators. This could reduce the influence that project managers exercise within the business and leave them feeling discontent.
  4. Ensuring profitability of projects: To ensure project profitability, project managers need to constantly oversee the three key elements of costs, schedule, and project scope. Sounds straightforward, right? But when you have to deal with multiple stakeholders, or account for the time it takes to get approvals on expenses, and the challenges related to resource management, staying on track with the profit margins can be complex.
  5. Lack of efficient project management tools or commitment from the organization to improve PM maturity: Without the right tools to aid them, project managers have to expend a lot of time and effort to get the right data to measure performance, forecast risks, and understand resource utilization – the struggle is real. Even if the Project Management Office realizes the need for an adept project management tool, gaining executive buy-in, and showcasing the need to improve project management maturity is easier said than done.

So, how do we support the Tims in project-based businesses?

If you have seen a trend of tired project managers quitting or think that the last straw that breaks the deal is around the corner, spring into action. While there are layered and nuanced challenges to contend with, one of the most impactful ways to support project managers would be to address the stressors that can be easily fixed with the application of technology.

In the story above, consider how automation and timely insights could have helped Linda easily raise alerts on scope creep and issue change requests on time. Imagine if data weren’t in multiple siloes and how analytics could relieve many of the burdens Tim was burdened with. He would ultimately end up with more time to help John adapt to shifts in his role. And that should be the goal – ensure that the routine, monotonous tasks are automated, and data flows across functions so that project managers can devote more time for guiding their team members through change and adopt a more strategic role. When we examine the true impact of technology, it also translates into the relief that Tim has knowing that his colleagues’ concerns have been mitigated so he can wake up in the morning and actually enjoy that cup of coffee.