Over my 20+ years of managing technical projects and playing various roles in project management offices, I've seen - and experienced - my fair share of project issues, near failures and, yes, failures. As a result, I've mentally compiled my own signs that a project is in trouble - mostly so I can be aware and take timely, corrective action or advise colleagues when I see it in projects being led by others. For me, it comes down to a list of five signs or categories. In the first instalment of this two part series, let’s look at the first two signs on my list: poor client communication and new resources being added to your project…
Poor client communicationWhenever client communication goes south it’s a huge cause for concern for me. To me, the first thing that comes to mind is that the customer’s satisfaction level has decreased and they are planning a response of some sort that may not involve a discussion with the actual project leader – you may soon get called into the CEO’s office and that’s never fun.
If you notice that communication with the client has dropped off significantly, take immediate action to engage the project sponsor and discuss the situation. Be direct…is there a problem, an issue, are they upset about something? It may just be that they are temporarily busy or experiencing some sort of re-org or change internally that doesn’t affect this project, only your project sponsor’s immediately availability for project involvement. That’s ok…you can work around that. But if there are real issues on the project side with how the project is going, make it clear that you want to discuss it with them and try to address any issues as quickly as possible.
New resources are being assignedThis one is scary because it starts to happen without your knowledge. I’ve not had this one happen to me, but I’ve seen it happen to colleagues and it’s definitely a sign that there is some uncertainty concerning the project at a high level. Either your executive management has concerns or your customer has concerns and has gone around you to voice them to your senior leadership…or both. But either way it’s a bad sign for you and shows that there is some concern about your leadership of the project. You must take action fast – the wrong action is to do nothing. Immediately ask why and be ready to respond with your list of project issues and project status and how you’re currently pro-actively attacking any concerns on the project. Sit down with your team and use a tool like mind mapping software to map out the issues on the project in a visual manner so you have something to show your executive team. Your executive management may be completely unaware that you are working pro-actively on whatever might be ailing the project and this will be a great time – and your only chance – to let them know that you are ‘on it’.
In Part 2 of this two part series, we’ll examine my next three signs that your project may be in trouble and potential actions to take in each case.
Brad Egeland is an IT veteran of 27 years having worked as an application developer, manager, project & program manager, consultant and business strategist and is the author of BradEgeland.com