Project in Trouble

Is Your New Project In Trouble Already?

As project managers, we spend a lot of time and energy staying on top of the projects we’re responsible for.  project in troubleBut let’s say the boss hands you a project that’s already underway, one that you’re not familiar with and that has been managed by someone who is no longer “available” to discuss it with you.  How are you going to quickly assess the real status of that project and whether it is healthy or failing?  Here are a few quick tips about things to look for.  Enterprise Project Management Main Page

  • Stakeholder satisfaction.  Have the key stakeholders been kept informed about the project?  Do they know the status?  Do they feel like the project is on the right track?  Approaching just a few of the major stakeholders and getting some informal feedback may tell you all you need to know about whether the project is headed toward success or is on the road to ruin.   Stakeholder Analysis
  • Project documentation.  Does the project have a reasonable and adequate library of the key documents needed to properly design, resource, and manage a project?  The “library” will vary widely by the size and complexity of the project, so your assessment must be tailored accordingly.  But there should be an appropriate level of rigor about documenting project scope, schedule, WBS, budget, and key objectives.  A project plan, even a 1-pager, should be considered essential.  If it’s missing, there’s something wrong.  Project Plan
  • Roles and Responsibilities.  Failure to establish a clear definition of team roles and responsibilities is an invitation for team disintegration.  These should be clearly documented and unequivocal, and should be team “common knowledge.”  The first hint that disputed or misunderstood responsibilities/authority are afoot in the project should set off warning alarms.
  • Measures of success.  How does the project know if it is succeeding or not?  If there are project progress reports to review, are they meaningful?  Are there metrics that relate to project objectives?  If these questions do not produce quantifiable answers that address the customer’s requirements, then the project’s current track should be closely examined.
  • Documented requirements.  And speaking of requirements, if your initial review of the project’s documentation does not include some reference to specific, quantifiable requirements, the project is at serious risk of missing the target.  Without valid requirements, you’ll have no way to measure whether the project is succeeding or failing.  Requirements Management
  • Adequacy of the resources and staff.  Given what you can determine about the project scope and requirements, you’ll want to estimate whether your available resources are sufficient to meet the objectives and schedule—assuming there is one.  Is the staff sufficient in number and needed competencies to perform the work?  Are any physical resources you need available, such as lab support, test facilities, or specialized equipment?
  • Change control.  Don’t underestimate the importance of a rigorously followed change control process.  If it is clear that project changes occur without due process, you can quickly guess that the project is unlikely to stay on any sort of efficient course to achieve its primary objectives.  Change Control

There are other factors that you may also want to consider, such as team culture and morale, risk management process, external factors, etc., but if you keep the above factors in mind as you explore your “new” project you may give yourself a very timely opportunity to “right” the ship’s course before it hits the reef.

Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on