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How to spot signs your project is about to fail

Moira Alexander | Aug. 30, 2016
There are many possible reasons a project is headed for problems. While some are easy to spot and correct, others may signify more deep-rooted issues that can derail even the best-laid plans.

Project management has many facets and anyone of them could derail even the best-laid plans. Recognizing the signs of an impending disaster can give a project manager the "heads up" before it happens. To help you spot the telltale signs, here are some of the more common signs grouped into three key categories.

1. High-level objectives

Missing strategic tie-in: Difficulty easily and clearly tie the project purpose and goals back to company-wide objectives is one of the biggest signals that project needs to be re-evaluated. Forging ahead without having a clear understanding of the project is beneficial to the company is a huge mistake in the making.

No clear motivations for a project: If few people understand or can explain the need for the project, you have an issue. It doesn't necessarily spell disaster, but if they are not sure why the project was undertaken in the first place makes it difficult during project execution for stakeholders to play their part in a meaningful way. On another note, if the leadership team isn't clear on why a project was selected, that can most definitely be a recipe for disaster.

Leadership priority issues: If the leadership doesn't agree on project priorities it can spell huge problems in terms of overextended resources and commitment on the part of employees, time and funding. If their leadership team can't agree on project priorities, employees can't be expected to know what the priorities are either.

Too many projects on the go: Even within large organizations, time, resourcing, scheduling and funding is a factor. Overextending any of these can be a sign that leadership may not be collaborating or communicating sufficiently to identify the priorities and the projects required to meet those priorities. This is one of those signs that should sound an alarm.

Constant scope changes: If there's a never-ending list of scope changes, it signifies requirements may not have been clearly or fully identified or documented. It can also be a sign that stakeholder needs have changed. Either way, it may be time to pump the brakes and figure out the cause of the scope changes before heading for trouble.

Major changes on the 11th hour: When considering the enormous amount of planning, time and effort that goes into project's, any 11th-hour changes can completely derail a project, especially when we're talking about major changes. This can be a sign that the planning stage was too light, or requirements were not sufficiently identified. It can also mean stakeholder expectations have changed throughout the project, but, regardless it still should be of significant concern.

2. The Leaders

Project sponsors are absent: Project sponsors are projects champions; they're necessary to provide the adequate support to project managers and their teams during all stages of project management. If they're conspicuously absent all the time, when problems arise project leaders have nowhere to turn. This can make even the best PM lose confidence, perhaps impairing his or her performance.


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