Thursday, 26 September 2013

5 Signs Your Project is in Trouble – Part 2

In Part 1 of this two part series on five signs that the project you are managing may be in trouble, we covered the first two items on my personal list of five. These were…

  • Poor client communication – this may be a sign that your client is becoming dissatisfied with the project manager and team or something involving the project.
  • New resources are being assigned – new resources are being assigned to your project from within the organization…and you didn’t request them.  This could be a sign that senior leadership is concerned with the health of the project and are taking their own measures to fix things….be concerned.
  • Many change orders – may be a sign that requirements were ill-defined and you’re going to continue down this painful path.

In this Part 2, I’ll go into detail on my final three top signs that our project may be in trouble:  the budget is constantly off, the client is disengaged, and the project is experiencing many change orders.  Let’s look at each of these in more detail…

Budget is constantly out of alignment

If you can’t seem to keep the project budget on track, that’s a big sign that your project is in trouble – at least in trouble of being deemed somewhat of a failure.  From my experience, an overage of 10% is often correctable…and it is usually within the ‘acceptable range’ when evaluating success at the end of the project.  But when the budget starts approaching 20%, 30%, 50% or beyond over budget…then you know you have real problems and it’s basically going to be impossible to correct it.  They key is to be monitoring the project budget every week throughout the engagement to ensure you never are too far out of alignment.  The earlier you can raise the flag and let everyone know there are financial issues on the project, the sooner you can take corrective action and the more likely you are to be able to rein the budget back in.

Poor client sponsor engagement

This one sounds similar but is very different from poor client communication.  Problems with communication can mean your client is upset with the project manager or team.  Poor engagement means they have lost interest or involvement in the project.  And that one is more scary. The poor engagement may be a sign that the project has lost most or all of its importance and priority with the customer...meaning the next step may be a cutoff of funding and a swift cancellation for the project.  

And finally, if your project sponsor becomes less involved or disappears because other work priorities are taking all of his time then where does that leave this project?  And what happens when you need access to him for weekly status call participation or for that quick decision that needs made on a moment’s notice?  A disengaged customer – while it may sound like a luxury to not have them breathing down your neck – is actually a bad thing and can cast a shadow of uncertainty over the entire project engagement.

Abundance of change orders

No one likes change orders – except maybe the execs in your organization because change orders often add revenue to the project.  Change orders usually mean more revenue for the delivery organization and possibly even an increased profit margin.  However, historically they are not something the client is fond of.  If your project begins to experience lots of change orders, then it may be a very clear sign that you started work on the project too early with requirements that were not fully defined.  Is it time to revisit scope – possibly even go back to mind mapping software - and see what was omitted and discuss what other changes may be needed in order to truly meet your customer’s needs?  A never-ending stream of change orders have frustrated more than one customer in the PM world enough to just cancel the project outright.  I’ve seen it  happen, so address the gaps as soon as possible.

Call for response

How about our readers?  What signs have you noticed to be indicators that your project may be in trouble?  What actions did you take to try to correct the situation?  How successful were  your actions?

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

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