Let’s face it, being a Project Manager can be frustrating. From the choice of methodology to governance to organizational culture and structure, every step of the way has the protentional of creating frustration. We are looking at some of the sources and possible ways to deal with your frustration.

Article Overview

Internal and External

Organizations are made up of people. Almost every one of the triggers for frustration is people.

“Today was going great until, People.”  ~unknown

The main thing to always remember that people do not do things intentionally. Their actions are usually a response to circumstances.

Let’s start at the top of any organization. Senior Management is made up of people, at least at present. Senior Management has agendas, some agendas out in the open, others hidden. Senior Management has business goals (and personal goals).  If the company is publicly held, there are stockholders to answer to and all companies have a board of directors.  Some business cases need to get board of director approvals and go through a few reviews during project execution. Dealing with the Board of Directors and Senior management can be very frustrating.

And then there is Middle management, usually where project managers and department managers are positioned. Most middle managers have department goals, personal goals, and agendas both in the open and hidden. In addition, middle managers have a responsibility to senior management to deliver the business goals, while not destroying any career aspirations.

External sources are clients and suppliers. Clients have visions of their project and expectations for smooth execution and success. Clients also can try to work around proper channels in order to expedite or enhance the project.

Most frustration coming from suppliers is usually due to communication and expectations, by all parties. The supplier is in business to provide a product or service and to make a profit. Communication and expectations have to be clear from the beginning, even documented if necessary.

Don’t ask questions

In general, people hate to ask questions. We learn from an early age that asking questions can make us look uneducated or stupid. Asking a ‘stupid’ question can lead to embarrassment and no one likes to be embarrassed and few can accept that situations that lead to the potential for embarrassment are just part of life.

Sometimes this mentality is due to the work culture or environment.  Consider the old saying, when I say jump, you do not even ask how high, just jump. Are we all familiar with that one, or is it just us?   An effective project manager should be questioning everything to some degree. In addition, the project manager should let his team know that asking questions is critical. There really are no stupid questions. If one is not sure of something, ask. The riskier an item, the more questions.  Conversely, little experience, more questions.  The project manager will need to be brave even when the required questions may challenge the status quo or present thinking or management.

Don’t know what they are to do

Another source of frustration can be when team members do not know what they are to be doing.  We can have team members doing the same thing, believing it their area to do.  This is not an effective use of the talent, perhaps this duplication is a waste of effort.  From experience, some team members prefer to do their part of the effort.  Besides the potential waste of time and uncoordinated effort from team members, we end up with tensions between those team members doing that part of the work.  Their efforts may well be at odds, in other words, unproductive.

Don’t know how to do it

Some people are self-learners and will work to figure things out when they do not know-how. Most times good, sometimes bad. A favorite saying is ‘GTS’: Google that Stuff. But one must be aware of the accuracy and correctness of what is on the web.  It is always good to research something you are not knowledgeable about, just be careful where you research it.

No clear leadership

This is sometimes a self-inflicted frustration by project managers. Project Managers own their projects. They lead the project.

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor but without folly.

~ Jim Rohn

Be sure you are demonstrating the qualities of a leader even if you are not leading, but especially if ‘you are the leader’.

Not clear directions

This dovetails into the one above. As the Project Leader, you need to make sure directions are clear. In addition, as mentioned earlier, make sure people know it is okay to ask questions if something is unclear. One technique we have found to be helpful is to have people repeat back to us what they heard. So, at that moment any clarification can be given.


Another frustration comes from the project manager expecting non-project management people don’t understand project management terms, techniques, and tools.

As we write this, we are experiencing, to our thinking, one of the significant sources of frustration.  Project managers confront others with a lack of understanding of fundamental principles of time and physics.  Specifically, time and dependencies.  For example, consider the two tasks below with a finish-start task dependency.

But when the first task is delayed, there may be an expectation that the schedule is not compromised.

If airlines operated like project managers they could leave hours late and still be expected to arrive on time


Our team, and our management, should understand the concept of variation. We may think that our processes are repeatable, even consistently so, however, no matter how consistent, there will be variation. 

Average values are only marginally helpful.  The average tells us very little, what we really need to know is the dispersion.  It is not sufficient that the project manager alone to understand this concept. 


When our guesses become the hard and fast laws, this can be frustrating as well.  We undertake projects based upon some business justification.  We start the estimate process with our current understanding of the scope of the work and customer demands coupled with the process approach to the project.  Knowing this, we make our best estimates, perhaps as a range of possibilities.  Our estimates are just informed guesses of what we believe to be required to deliver to customer expectations.

We have found that explaining to those developing the estimates the eleven types of estimates and which one we are looking for now. The eleven types will be covered in another article.


At the beginning of the project, we will define specific methods we want to employ to achieve the work package and project objectives.  From experience, these may not be followed, and sometimes, that is for good reason. The process we select to employ will not work in this instance.  These process problems are a double-edged sword.  Ignoring agreed-upon processes that work, is not a recipe for success, similarly, neither is trying to make the work conform to a rigid process in instances when this process will just not work.  A project manager, with their team, must be able to define how they will conduct the work, and how to adapt as circumstances require. 

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dealing with Frustration

Frustration can be a significant source of problems also.  We must have sufficient “intestinal fortitude” as said in the olden days or to persevere. The project manager must be able to know when to help resolve when to ignore.  Foremost, the project manager must create an environment where these frustrations can be voiced without fear of reprisals, a trusting environment.

How to Deal With Frustration

  1. Isolate the Problem
  2. Reflect on why you are getting upset
  3. Take a deep breath and tell yourself “This will ultimately work out”
  4. Now, Look at the situation in a new way.


To add to the list, keep asking questions, they will lead to that “Aw-Ha” moment where the problem is clear as the solution.

“Frustration, although painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success” Bo Bennett

In General

We can sum the frustrations into a category of learning, or more importantly, the inability to learn.  Many people, from experience, can adapt to momentary difficulties.  The frustration happens with the recurrence, duration, or frequency of occurrence of the events.  As we like to say, there are few things more painful than metaphorically burning your hand on the same stove you know to be hot.

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”  ~Douglas Adams