Warning signs of troubled projects
Managing projects involves balancing the iron triangle of scope, time, and resources.The most frequently cited definition of a troubled project is when one of these three constraints is signifigantly varying from the plan. This can occur when there’s no skilled project manager engaged on the project. However, many projects go off the rails when very smart project managers are on board.
- Stakeholders who disagree
- Don’t engage in appropriate debate
- Senior leaders will not make decisions
The warning signs show up early in a troubled project and should trigger action.These stakeholders who disagree with each other on project priorities and don’t engage in appropriate debate to work out there issues. Represent a very common warning sign. At other times, senior leaders will not make decisions that are critical for the project or they stop showing up for meetings where their presence is needed.
Sometimes, the symptoms are more subtle, key customer representatives start changing their minds about project requirements. Or retract statements made in earlier discussions. Critical team members start missing deadlines and meetings because they try to juggle to many priorities. Team members that might be aware of the extra time in the project schedule regularly use that time without any apparent reason. Something is causing them to loose focus.
Subtle Warning Signs
- Customer representative start changing minds/retracting statements
- Missing deadline
- Losing focus
- As-is state
Trouble can show up in projects because inadequate time and energy is put into understanding the current situation of business processes. Often called the as-is state. This problem becomes evident when team members and customers start arguing about how things are done today. Or discoveries made that multiple business processes exist to create a single outcome.
Pressing on with the project in this situation is very dangerous. This is because the solutions and processes created by the project can adequately support some business areas but will totally fail to support others. Instead of new, efficient and effective business improvements, the project may produce chaos and unhappy customers.
No one is taking ownership
Another sure sign of project illness is when the project team is trying to press forward. But nobody is stepping up to take ownership of the products they’re producing. As ridiculous as that may sound, it is not all that uncommon. At times, a manager’s been asked to sponsor a project, but they don’t fully understand or support the project goals. This will often occur when a senior manager has a pet project they want to see delivered. Frequently the vision of nirvana held by the senior leader is not shared by their staff.
Believe change is not in their best interest
Projects can often trigger very substantial change in an organization. And despite the enthusiasm of senior managers. Many stakeholders may believe the changes not in their best interest. Apparent or sometimes subtle arguments become convenient blocker, signaling project trouble. This usually takes the form of long drawn out meetings when new processes, project approaches or other indicators of changes are being discussed. These meeting blocker debates often over relatively minor changes or procedural discussion can totally halt a project progress.
Placing too heavy a focus on project management!
The last item that we will discuss that can cause significant trouble for a project is placing too heavy a focus on project management. Project management deliverable such as schedules, plans for communication, risk, quality and so should always be created as pragmatic tools. Many organizations have very sound project and sometimes legislative responsibilities for producing artifacts. However, in most cases, the project manager and the project team have the ability to design and apply project management tools in a way that is simple, pragmatic, and represents enough controls.
At times, when trying to ensure a project is being managed with a degree of control. Project management deliverable seem to overshadow the product the project is meant to produce. This can bog down progress, discourage project customers, and create undue burdens for the project team.
So remember to keep an eye out for these six warning signs of a troubled project.
- Unresolved debates among senior stakeholders.
- Inconsistencies in behavior with stakeholders, including sporadic meeting attendance.
- A lack of common understanding around the “as-is state”.
- Lack of ownership for project deliverables.
- Blockers due to personal versus business interests.
- And too cumbersome and detailed project management deliverables.
Just in case you were totally depressed, fear not. Relief is coming. Please feel free to discuss with colleagues and network with Project Managers around the world about remedies and techniques that you can use to help prevent these project issues.