As a project manager, you expect to hit obstacles along the way – but if you’re not prepared, these obstacles can put your project into a serious danger zone.
How can you tell if you’re on the cusp of a project going down the drain? For starters, listen carefully. The clue is in what’s being said around the office. Here’s a list of 11 statements that signal your project could be in some serious trouble.
1. “What problem are we trying to solve here?”
Coming from a team member, it means your project goals and objectives have not been clearly communicated. Coming from a stakeholder, it suggests your project is on shaky ground in high places. When your team doesn’t know the true agenda, it’s tough to tap the team’s creativity on the key issues. Perhaps you presume that the project’s purpose is so obvious it’s not worth articulating. If so, you’re wrong – articulate your goals. Projects don’t fail from over-communicating.
2. “Failure is not an option.”
This attitude cuts off information from the team about risks to the project because people think the speaker prefers not to hear about problems. And by cutting off a line of communication where team members can talk about the failure options – and how to cut them off, this mantra actually increases the chances of failure.
3. “Our project champion just left the company.”
In executive transitions, the new exec may not adopt all of the predecessor’s priorities. The internal political dynamic changes. Management direction that is inconsistent, absent or changing confuses people.
4. “Office politics are undermining this project.”
It’s always a red flag when corporate politics and project goals conflict, whether the politics are in your office or your client’s. Even benign neglect can threaten your project. Furthermore, the morale dip that comes from whispers of any negative office politics can fracture a team’s commitment and focus.
5. “You’re over budget on overtime.”
At least two problems here. First, you’ll wear out your team because the project plan is flawed. Second, nobody’s watching the budget, and projects that run out of money rarely end well. Excess overtime suggests the manager has taken on more work than the team can accomplish. The bigger failure is that when resources are spread too thin, the most important projects are starved of resources.
6. “We’ll put lipstick on this pig later.”
Quality issues catch up with you sooner, not later. What happens after the project is over and the pig still isn’t wearing any lipstick?
7. “I’ll get on it right away [yawn].”
Someone’s suffering either a lack of commitment or interest. For a team, it’s a problem. From a stakeholder, it’s an even bigger problem. This glaring “lack” may surface when people no-show for meetings, or turn passive after active participation. Other warning signs: “I never got that email” and “I’ll do my best.” Followed by more yawning.
8. “The team’s in a state of discord.”
Now you’re beyond poor communication and entering project self-destruction. Discord destroys project progress. Head this one off at the poor- communications stage, before it turns into a weather system of discord.
9. “That interim milestone doesn’t really matter as long as we finish on time.”
How you get to the finish line matters. And missing a milestone jeopardizes the entire timeline, every time. Missed milestones also alert clients and stakeholders that something’s amiss. Call in the team and develop a plan to catch up.
10. “We should take this in a whole new direction.”
To finish a project on time you can’t change direction midway through the project, at least not without addressing timelines, resources, and budget. If you’re adding or subtracting components halfway through the project, something larger is going wrong. Don’t be a passive victim of scope creep – it will cost you.
11. “Ummm …”
If this is ever the answer to “Can you bring me up to speed on the project?” you’re in trouble. You, and anyone on your team should be able to give the current status on the project, or at least a portion of it. If not, don’t expect fireworks for your annual review.
Some preventative measure and emergency fixes:
- For communications problems, a collaborative project management tool can serve as the “system of record” where everyone communicates and looks for project status and updates.
- To keep your customer in the loop, schedule a regular check-in. At my company, FactPoint, we include a short weekly status meeting in every project proposal. Not only does this keep our clients informed, it motivates us to focus and hit our milestones.
- To avoid overspending budgets, scope and plan carefully before the project starts.
- Pick team members carefully. Identify the values and work styles you’re looking for, and then ask the appropriate questions.
- Keep communication lines open, collaborate frequently and support a transparent working environment to encourage a productive, happy team.
For more solutions read, 5 Ways to Save a Project That’s in Trouble.
What did we miss? Tell us one of your most predictive signs of a product on its way to doomsville.