6 Signs Your Project is Headed for Trouble!

dale“I have a bad feeling about my project,” stated a young, high-tech Project Manager on a call last week. It seemed that all the project indicators were positive: the project plan was on schedule, expenses were within budget, the issues log and backlog reports were manageable – even the PMO had given the project a green (positive) rating on the last scorecard. Yet, something just did not feel right. “But, I’m not sure why,” he said in a worried voice.

Over the life of a project, there are often warnings that don’t show up on traditional measures like scorecards. Experienced Project Managers can sense problems that are not easily viewed. And, they know where to hunt for the clues.

Read my most read post, “The 7 Things They Don’t Teach You in Project Management School,” by clicking here.

Most of these warning are behavioral; people in and around a project just start acting differently. Experienced Project Managers read these changes and react to head-off problems before they become trouble.

The 6 signs of pending trouble are:

  • Project team members are missing team meetings. This is never a good sign. Sometimes, it’s an indication of a lack of discipline in a project. Often, it’s a sign that team members are distancing themselves from the initiative. Perhaps they see a problem or a fatal flaw, and they don’t want to be associated with failure. Whatever the reason, a Project Manager needs to address this, and fast.
  • Stakeholders are quiet. Conventional wisdom says that a quiet stakeholder is a happy stakeholder. I disagree. If stakeholders are not complaining about something, then there’s potentially a major problem. Checking-in frequently with key stakeholders is always a good move. They often see or hear things before you do.
  • Issues Log is not growing. The addition of new entries in the issues log is a sign that work is ongoing, and that learning is happening. If the log is not growing, then the opposite is happening, which can only mean trouble is close.
  • You have to pry task completion data from your team members. It’s critical for Project Managers to be monitoring task completion (or non-completions) data. When task owners are slow to update the completed task list or report on their performance, it’s a sure sign that something is wrong, and the Project Manager better pay attention.
  • Your sponsor starts asking about specific project details. Sponsors are usually experienced, and well connected. They have great “noses” to smell problems. If you sponsor starts poking around your project, looking into the details, such as upcoming deliverables, then perhaps they suspect something is wrong.
  • Finance team member is starting to sweat. Most large projects have a finance person attached to the team (someone has to watch the money). Most finance people have an uncanny ability to detect problems. If your finance team member is asking questions, and looking for additional information, then maybe a problem is looming.

A Project Manager cannot be everywhere on a project. Often projects have long durations, hundreds of resources, and thousands of tasks. Sometimes, a Project Manager is juggling multiple projects, further diluting the attention that can be given to a project.

Experienced Project Managers have to be able to sense problems, and detect when something is amiss. They know to engage the project team, the sponsor(s), and key stakeholders, to listen for indicators of concern. They encourage others to share their knowledge and impressions – so that bad news can be openly and quickly addressed.

Is the project managed by my young technology client doomed to fail? I certainly hope not. He was able to sense that something was not right – which is often half the battle. He just needs to learn how to read the hidden signs of project problems and work to head them off, before they escalate into major issues.

What do you think? Are there non-traditional problem indicators that you use? I’d like to hear from you.

Read the award winning post, “The 7 Things They Don’t Teach You in Project Management School,” by clicking here.

 

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About Dale Myers

A San Francisco Bay Area Project and Program Expert
This entry was posted in Project Management, Project Team Management and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 6 Signs Your Project is Headed for Trouble!

  1. seema sonkiya says:

    Good article

    • Jose Perez says:

      • Project team members are missing team meetings. This is purely lack of leadership on the project manager. One quick fix is for the PM to call a meeting and invite an executive stakeholder. You will notice most in the Team will attend. “Speak softly but carry a big stick”. When you call a meeting the team will attend or else you escalate.
      • Stakeholders are quiet. This is never a sign of project trouble. It could be a sign of poor reporting and communications from the PM. As long as the project is on-time and on-budget there is no compelling reason for stakeholders to be unhappy.
      • Issues Log is not growing. Similarly, just because the issues log does not grow is not an indication of trouble. However, if the issues log does not grow because the team members ate not reporting issues (missing meetings) that is another story. Again, this is the job of the PM to enforce.
      • You have to pry task completion data from your team members. I agree with this one. When task owners are slow to update the completed task list or report on their performance then there is no visibility to the PM on what’s really happening. The PM needs to be forceful with the team on reporting activity completion. If they do not report assume that it was not done and send them an email asking them why they are “late”.
      • Your sponsor starts asking about specific project details. Not really a sign of trouble but a sign that the PM is not communicating with stakeholders in a timely and clear way. During the weekly (or monthly) project progress report meeting the PM needs to communicate to the stakeholders the real project status and provide alerts if the PM foresees any trouble ahead. The PM should not wait for the stakeholders to be the ones who ask about signs of trouble.
      • Finance team member is starting to sweat. Yes, this is the most important one. If budget is running low and activities are still not completed, that is a true sign of trouble. Even when the project may fall behind schedule there are always workaround solutions. But when there is no additional budget there is no recourse. If the PM did not plan sufficient buffers for activities and budget … he/she is in trouble.

      Best Regards to All … Cheers … Jose

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