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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.

PM lacks self-confidence: If a project manager exhibits a lack of confidence when they walk into a project, it creates a trickle-down effect where project teams lose confidence in the project leader as well. If this trend continues, it makes it extremely difficult for a PM to be effective. The longer this trend continues, the more devastating the impact and project outcomes.

The team lacks confidence in the PM: Sometimes a project manager exhibits confidence, but for reasons outside of that the project team simply doesn't believe the PM has the abilities or skill to lead them to success. Because people are people, and gossip is a well-known fact in the workplace an issue like this, once discovered, must be dealt with immediately to avoid it spreading like a virus. Make sure to identify the root cause as fast as possible.

Project members don't like the PM: There will be times when a project manager is highly capable and confident, but due to various factors, not limited to attitude, arrogance, or people skills are not well received by teams or stakeholders. This is also a huge problem for businesses wanting to successfully accomplish project goals. People in these situations tend to develop a "who cares" attitude around project activities.

A PM or key team member leaves during the project: This can be an alarming feeling for teams and stakeholders. All too often it creates confusion around "what's next" or "now what." People begin to wonder what happened or did the project manager know something they don't. More often than not, the real reason(s) are less harmful than what people may be thinking or saying. This can be demoralizing if not handled properly. A PM should avoid leaving during a project unless circumstances dictate it's necessary and unavoidable. Advance communication is key to alleviate stress and confusion.

3. The people behind the project

Highly disinterested stakeholders: If project stakeholders are disinterested in a project, it can create a contentious environment and make it difficult to accomplish the required work. Gaining buy-in prior to execution is key.

No one shares knowledge: To a great degree, projects rely heavily on knowledge-sharing and collaboration. It can take only one individual who doesn't believe in sharing information to derail a project completely depending on their role and position. It's important to identify those individuals and directly address the problem as soon as possible. This is all part of stakeholder buy-in issues.

Other human resources issues: There can be a multitude of other HR-based issues that can negatively impact the project. Some others that are of more concern could be constant conflict, team members who don't really understand their role, and if the wheels fall off the wagon during every meeting, a PM should be concerned and deal with these right away before they get out of control. While they may not signify immediate disaster, they have the potential to if left unchecked.


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