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11 reasons why projects can be stressful for everyone involved

I’ve worked on lots of projects over the last 25 or so years, in many different business functions, sectors and countries.

With a keen interest in people and the process of change, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe

  • The challenges that projects create for the people working in and around them, and

  • The impact that people’s behaviour has had on the success (or not) of projects.

Here are11 reasons why projects can be stressful for everyone involved


  • Supplier/consultant team(s),

  • Client delivery team(s). Often led by, and including IT people (for many of the projects I’ve worked on), but also including people seconded to the project on a full or part-time basis from the business areas impacted by the project,

  • Team(s) that are impacted by the change. The ‘change targets’, and

  • Other stakeholders.

1. Insufficient project preparation

Even with detailed responses to proposals and high-level plans, many clients are underprepared for what they need to think about, budget and plan for in advance of the project. This can lead to a lack of resources or inadequate processes...additional 'unexpected' stress-inducing issues to deal with in the project.

2. Uncertainty & complexity

...and particularly at the start of the project when there is a lot to figure out. As human beings, we’re not wired to like change or uncertainty, which is in the very nature of a project. So even if you like the challenge, projects can easily test your resilience and cause stress.

3. Working with different types of people

Because of the different parties involved in projects, you are often working with people from different organisations or different functions, with different ways of working and a mix of knowledge, skills and behaviour preferences.

And to be successful, you have to start working well together quickly, normally at a time of high complexity and uncertainty. You need excellent relationship skills.

This doesn't come naturally to everyone and can be positively difficult for many and may lead to frustration, relationship issues and dysfunctional team behaviour. A tricky and stressful environment to be in.

4. Elements of 'New' to deal with

New team, new role, first time on a project, new ways of working, new location. Many people on the project will be dealing with an element of new that always brings extra challege and the potential for stress.

5. Projects are temporary

Particularly for the people from the business, the fact that projects are temporary can lead to underlying anxiety. What next? Will I have a job when this is over? Is this good for my career?

6. The Time/Cost/Quality project triangle squeezes individual time

In 25 years, I think I’ve seen one go-live date moved because it wasn’t achievable with the resources we had. In my experience, it’s often the hidden cost of additional individual time that means the project delivers on its promises. This overwork invariably leads to stress and puts people at risk of burnout.

7. Projects are monitored and measured constantly

This tends to mean that individual performance is more visible, and to a wider audience than may be the case in a non-project role. This can introduce an element of reputational risk and feel more stressful for people who aren’t used to working in this environment.

8. Dealing with the change that results from the project

All projects change something and, as above, we’re not wired to like change. Even if it’s a good change, there is still some upheaval and a new way of working to get used to. At the other end of the spectrum, the change may cause high amounts of disruption and the levels of resistance and stress will be much greater.

9. Lots of challenges to think through and solutions to find

Every project has a RAID log – Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Decisions. So by their very nature, there is always plenty to think about. A bigger RAID log means more challenge and potentially more stress, as people have to juggle priorities and make sure everything is completed to a deadline.

10. Resourcing and balancing project and business needs

This is a really common area where a lack of preparation can show up, with teams being overly optimistic about how little the project will disrupt business as usual, or how much people can do with their time. On top of that, there are often unexpected issues that arise during projects which create more work, and it becomes harder to keep both the project and the business running smoothly.

11. Working away from home

This one is generally reserved for suppliers/consultants but sometimes affects the client team(s) too. For some, this aspect is a positive bonus of project work, but for others, it’s a major disruption to home-life and they find being away from home difficult to deal with (I know that was true for me, even though I knew from the outset it was part of the job).

Good people support and change management practices need to be in place to mitigate the risks associated with these factors

...for the sake of all those involved, but also to maximise the chance of project success, reduce project risk and minimise the impact on morale, performance, and normal business activities through the period of change.

If you’d like to discuss what measures you could put in place to address these factors, please book a free call


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