08 July 2009

Eight Signs That Your Project is in Trouble

Many of my clients are in a situation where the number of complex issues that need to be dealt with outside of the standard organizational structures is growing. The companies that earlier tended to outsource the most complex of these projects to outside consultants are now less able to do so due to economic constraints. Due to these two factors, I see that the number of internal teams dealing with complex projects is growing dramatically.

If you are also facing this situation then there are almost certainly one or more projects within the portfolio of projects you are responsible for where you have a “gut feeling” that the project is not going well. Since you do not have any conclusive evidence, it is difficult to do anything but to hope the best and see what the teams come up with.

In my career I have had the opportunity to improve a large number of projects that were not going well. Distilling my experience across these projects, I believe that there are eight warning signals for projects that are not going well. The more warning signals that apply, the more urgent it is to intervene. The eight warning signals are given below, and each title links to a separate blog-entry giving more details on the individual signal:
1. The project-team appears to be dealing with a very broad range of issues
2. The project team does not seem to be spending much time together
3. The team is spending a lot of time carrying out “interviews”
4. The team does not appear to be doing any meaningful analytics
5. The team has very limited interaction with you (and other sponsors )
6. Key stake-holders, who's by-in will be required for the project to be a success, are not aware of the project
7. The project is not meeting agreed deadlines
8. It is difficult to pin the team down on any meaningful conclusions

My generic answer for dealing with a project that is showing a number of these warning signals, and is therefore heading toward failure, is to regroup. An example of such a situation was described in an earlier blog-entry. Regrouping involves bringing together the core team members in a meeting. This meeting should have sufficient time reserved for it (suggested minimum is two hours), and be set up to minimize the possibility of external distractions (possible off-site, no mobile-phones, etc). This meeting should start off with a review of the issues the project is meant to deal with, the original goals set for the project, and the deliverables the team is expected to come up with. The next step should be to go through the work the team has carried out, and to discuss the key signals that served as a starting point for your worries about the project. Based on a reconfirmation of the goals and deliverables a realistic time-span should be agreed with clearly articulated milestones where you expect concrete updates on progress. The team should then be forced to allocate responsibilities and get a (realistic) commitment from each member on the time that they will invest and the activities they will carry out.

One of the problems that I have often encountered is that the team has conflicts with their daily work or other activities. In these situations, I have needed the help of the sponsor to help free up time and deal with conflicting priorities. This has also meant that the sponsor, has needed to get more actively involved in the day-to-day work of the team with intense follow-up and active assistance in the form of “running interference” for the team and guaranteeing that they are given sufficient time to carry out the required work. In my experience such a “re-grouping” of the team activities is usually sufficient to get the team back “on-track”.

Using these fairly simple steps to bring a project back "on track" has served me well in project management consultancy work that I have carried out at a range of companies. The suggested activities can also be used to kick-start a project management training. Follow the links if you are interested in more information on project planning or project management training.

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