Signs of a project in trouble

Indicators of a project that is heading for trouble can typically be categorized under people or process.  Troubled projects are rarely due to technical issues.  Even when a technical issue is encountered, if there are appropriate processes and skills in place, it can usually be overcome.

People

  • Lack of, or inconsistent, senior management and/or sponsor support
    • disagreement at the senior level about enterprise priorities equates to middle managers and project team members not seeing the project as a priority
    • inconsistent or missing direction creates an inability to maintain consistency and stability within the project
    • the project's direction is disconnected or at odds with the business
  • Ineffective leadership and communication by project manager
  • Lack of stakeholder involvement and/or engagement means the project is not a priority for them and it will be unlikely that their expectations will be met
  • Project team commitment and/or issues
    • if they don’t see project as a priority, they will always find other things to do
    • project team may not have the necessary skills or resource capacity to do the work
    • project objectives may conflict with project team member’s personal interests
    • low morale
    • team members don’t listen and respect each other
    • team is in a state of discord
    • poor communication amongst team members
  • Subject matter experts are over allocated and can’t commit the necessary time to the project
  • Cultural conflict among departments involved
  • Resources assigned to a higher priority project
  • Nobody can state why the project is being done, and who is responsible for what

Process                                    

  • Project requirements, scope, goals and success criteria
    • If these aren’t documented and communicated, stakeholders will all have differing expectations and assumptions
    • Without formal approval on these, the project manager has not forced the different expectations and assumptions to the surface to be resolved early in the project
    • Undefined success criteria, by definition, leads to project failure since there is no criteria to determine if the project was a success.  Stakeholders will withdraw resources if objectives and benefits have not been articulated
    • If stakeholders have not be involved in determining these from the beginning, the project will become an evolving target as these stakeholders become more involved and provide input too late in the process
    • Significant changes to requirements and scope throughout the project create a moving target for the project team, making it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully complete the project
    • Unable to obtain agreement on requirements, scope and success criteria
  • No change control process for requirements, scope, etc
  • Ineffective schedule planning and/or management
    • undocumented milestone deliverables and due dates will lead to multiple opinions of what needs to be done and when
    • project team must agree on what short-term tasks have to get done to lead  to long-term objectives
    • no status reporting process means that stakeholders and team members don't have a way to know if tasks are on schedule or late, which then affects dependent tasks
    • if early project delays are ignored, nobody understands the impact down the road until it’s too late
    • Schedule deadline and shifts not appropriately reconciled
    • Project team members are over scheduled and/or working significant overtime
  • Communication breakdown among stakeholders, pulling project team in multiple directions
  • lack of (or inconsistent use of) project management methodology and processes
    • No business case for the project typically means the project  will not get management attention and resources
    • No planning and estimation documentation leaves project team and stakeholders confused and frustrated since they don't know when deliverables and tasks are expected to be started/completed
    • Key stakeholders do not review and sign off on deliverables on a timely basis, resulting in most costly changes later in the project, or a project deliverable that does not meet their expectations
    • no approved project charter at early stage of project that clearly defines what the project is, what success looks like, and roles and responsibilities
    • no risk analysis documentation and process which usually causes delays and issues that could have been avoided with appropriate risk monitoring and mitigation
    • No project management methodology leading to inconsistent practices that usually don't incorporate best practices
  • Project/program governance  – lack of clarity or understanding on committees' responsibility and decision-making authority in relation to project/program team’s responsibility and decision-making authority, leads to issues with changes, escalations, approvals, and timelines

If you are starting to see these signs in your project/program, please contact the PMO to schedule a health check by an impartial third party to determine what changes could be made to turn your project/program around. 

To request this service, please submit an RT to the IST-PMG RT queue (online or  email).