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Solutions for Problem Projects

Solutions for Problem Projects 178 178 Charlotte Edwards

Common signs that show your project needs troubleshooting


No one likes failure, especially in business as mistakes can be costly. So when it comes to launching a project, it’s in an organisation’s interest to do their utmost to ensure its complete success. Many will put together a carefully selected team and assign a project manager to ensure a successful delivery. However, this alone does not guarantee success. All too often, projects fail or miss deadlines and businesses are left out of pocket, wondering where it all went wrong. As a specialist in troubleshooting businesses and projects that are having problems, we’ve seen our fair share. The vast majority we’ve been involved with could have been rescued at a much earlier point had the senior management team been aware of the warning signs. Here are some of them.

Your intuition is telling you something

More often than not, if you think a project is in trouble, then it probably is. It can be hard to use moral courage to speak of failure fears; after all, it’s your job to try to ensure its success. The way to address this is to constantly use feedback and measurements to assess the success rate. Starting with a defined statement of what the project will achieve helps with goal setting and will highlight any areas that are failing.

Cost ratios and schedule ratios don’t add up

Keeping track of key metrics, such as cost ratio and schedule ratio, is vital in ensuring your project is on track as they tell you where you are versus where you should have been. If a project is missing deadlines, then you may find the team is having to make more effort, including putting in more overtime to gain traction which could affect morale. Additional resources may also have been put into it to try to increase the chances of it being successful. This is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term, both in terms of staff productivity, resources and budget.

Team issues

Despite choosing what you thought was the perfect team, many things can happen to cause a lack of cohesion. If the team isn’t working together properly and communicating effectively with each other or the stakeholders, then no matter how well designed, the project could end up stalling. Signs such as team members missing meetings could indicate a lack of discipline or a wish to distance themselves from a project. This can occur at any time, so it’s important to assess how well the team is working together and try to address issues early on. If they can’t be resolved, it might be time to look at a project rescue. Agile methodologies allow all team members to be included and valued through every stage of the project; always question whether the project manager is valuing the team as a unit and individually.

Ineffective leadership

Over the past few years, a combination of strategy and technology has helped improve the success of projects. However, projects can still fail. One of the reasons for projects not being delivered on time and on budget is ineffective leadership. Good leadership is a must have, especially if the project is focused on change management where business tools, processes and procedures are involved. Admitting that the project leadership is not working is the first step in recognising that something needs to be done to get things back on track. A good leader should inspire, have high levels of emotional intelligence and be able to motivate the team when the going gets tough.

Key deliverables aren’t being met

Having key milestones along the way presents a good opportunity to review the project and ensure it is progressing well. It also helps lift the team, helping to boost team spirit as they feel part of a successful operation. When a project starts to stall, you will often see completion dates for the deliverables being amended and put back. Other indicators, such as a lack of communication from the team or when task owners are slow to update the completed task list or report on their performance, are also warning signs. Ensure that daily meetings are held to assign tasks and reiterate timings. Reward the team for early completion and don’t set tasks that are impossible to complete.

Lack of senior management support and direction

Sometimes a project can suffer if key figures in the senior management team aren’t convinced that it’s going to work or are unclear about its goals and aims. This can lead to a lack of belief, which translates into a lack of support and direction. You will often see incidents of team members being pulled off the work or given other tasks to do by senior management. The scope of the project may also have been changed and certain requirements relaxed. When this starts to happen, this may be a sign that something needs to be done. A great way to counteract this is to use the MoSCoW rules and involve the senior management in the prioritisation of tasks. They then have an understanding of what priorities are set and included in the project throughout the whole lifecycle.

While these are some of the warning signs, they don’t necessarily mean your project is going to fail. Even if your project is exhibiting all these signs, a rescue plan can still be put in place. We’ve worked with many organisations at different stages helping them to turn things around.