Not every project is destined to be a roaring success, in fact some are doomed before they even get the go-ahead from above. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that we can’t know how things will change or turn out when we set out on a certain path. The best we can ever do is to try and plot the best course with the information we have at hand and then keep a steady eye out to spot the icebergs that may emerge from the fog ahead.
Knowing how to spot a failing project early enough to minimize the knock-on damage it causes to your team, the organization as a whole or your career is an essential skill for project managers everywhere. Project failure can often not be avoided but by being spotted early enough, its effects can definitely be lessened. Here’s how to sharpen your wits when it comes to spotting project failure early.
How to Spot a Failing Project
The system is not being followed
Every project starts out with some kind of plan, with directions and objectives. It is also accompanied by a system of processes that are to be followed to achieve these objectives. An early sign of impending project failure is when these processes are regularly changed to “do it a new way”. These can be positive, such as introducing project management software like Clarizen, but too little adherence to a standard will make a project disjointed.
Long-term goals become subordinate to short-term wins
Projects come in varying lengths and sizes and, especially with longer projects, it can be easy to lose sight of distant goals. For example, to please a client or impress an executive, one part of a project can be rushed through in place of another, even though deviating from the project’s critical path can lead to serious delays and even complete failure.
Everything’s going well
It might seem the opposite of a problem, but when everything goes quiet on the problems front, one of two things are happening. Either this is actually a meticulously planned and executed project with a healthy dose of good fortune (which is of course possible), or the smoke from the dumpster fire is so heavy that you can’t actually see two feet in front of you.
The future path is very ambiguous
While it’s not necessary to know precisely what will happen at 2pm on Tuesday five weeks from now, it’s generally a good idea to know what should happen tomorrow or even next week. When everything seems to be urgent and there’s no clear vision of the speed or direction of the project, crashes are likely to occur.
Your vendor relationships are collapsing
Relationships with contractors and suppliers are an essential element of any project’s productive potential. For whatever reason it may happen, monetary, ideological or personal, when vendor relationships start to break down control of your project’s destiny is being taken out of your hands and placed at the whim of others.
The project is getting too personal
Office politics are generally present, to greater and lesser degrees, in every organization. The risk for your project is when they start pulling your team and project in different directions. A project divided cannot stand and inter-personal issues can often deliver a fatal blow to even the best planned projects.