Operational Excellence

Five Signs of Prospective Project Trouble

by Brad Egeland, December 8, 2015

 Ever get that eerie feeling that something may be going wrong on one of your creative projects? Something lurking in the corner, waiting to rear it's ugly head at you and take down one of your supposedly well-managed projects? If you are looking over your shoulder or you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, you may be onto something. An issue, an overlooked problem, or some odd conversation with the project client stored in the back of your head that keeps bugging you are just examples which might actually mean something important. Don't brush them off. Too much is at stake.


When you consider the overall big picture, project failure is too prevalent to just let go. If you're concerned, follow-up. Reach out to the project client before it's too late. Check in with the project team and go over tasks in detail – that eerie feeling you were having may be a sign that something big and ugly is about to happen.


With that in mind, let's consider some key signs that your project may be in trouble.


Mis-communication. Are negative things happening on your project as a result of miscommunication, lack of communication, or communication at the wrong time? Communication drives the project. It is the most important skill any project manager must have. So if there is a communication problem on the project that is leading to tasks not being completed, decisions not being made or assumptions being incorrectly acted upon, then the buck must stop with the project manager. In a case like this, the PM must regroup and revisit the project communication plan – however formal or informal that may be. Call a time-out and get the client and project team together before this goes even further south. Make sure everyone is on the same page and start back up again with a renewed focus on good, effective and efficient communication.


Unavailable project sponsor. Is your project sponsor suddenly incognito? A sign of trouble is not that he's hiding from you. Rather, his ongoing lack of availability to you and his participation on the project is what may soon spell trouble for the project itself. You need him there for decision making, for business process input and for requirements questions and input. You need him there for project status calls and for his own effort on any tasks assigned to him. He likely has a day job aside from this project sponsor role and if that is suddenly getting in the way of his participation and availability for the project, trouble may be in your near future.


Recurring vendor issues. Do you have an important vendor on the project who is consistently delivering late or failing to deliver at all? What happens at the next milestone or deliverable? The client's patience is not something to be tested; any repeated failures can quickly cause big client concerns and calls to your CEO. You need to sit down with the vendor. You may need to find another vendor, likely at the expense of some time and dollars on the project. Stay on top of any vendor issues because they can quickly become signs of painful project trouble.


Outstanding client invoices. Some invoices may just be oversights on the client's side. They may be a miscommunication between the client sponsor and his accounting department. They may be a bad paper trail on the client side. Or they may be a sign of discontent on the project sponsor's side. Have a discussion with your client before this gets out of hand. If they are unhappy, you need to know... now.


Team conflicts. Are you seeing increased tension between project team members? It's great if you can travel through a project conflict-free. But we are dealing with skilled resources and big egos, too. There's bound to be conflict from time to time. If you are seeing a lot of it, then action has to be taken, as too much conflict can decrease team morale significantly and become a management drain on the project manager. Plus, the client will eventually sense this and become concerned. Move to resolve conflict as soon as possible. You may even come to the point that you have to remove/replace team members. Do whatever is necessary. Oh, and hurry before it's too late.


Summary / call for input


Are you seeing any of these signs on one of your projects? If you are, don't panic. But don't procrastinate either. The action you take today may make the difference between success and sorrow on your project. Please share your own thoughts on warning signs of project trouble and let's discuss.


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