Part 4 Chapter 32

Part 4 Chapter 32

32. 13 SIGNS THAT YOUR PROJECT MAY BE IN DEEP TROUBLE

Obviously, the only way you can know for sure whether your project is in trouble or not is to (a) have a properly estimated plan and (b) be monitoring properly against it.

However, there are a number of signs I have seen over the years that are guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of my neck and may be indicative of major trouble.

Since some of these are not exactly objective or measurable, I’ve tried to give an indication of how reliable they might be.

1. No plan

No plan at all. Or a poorly estimated or sketchy plan.

Probability that the project is in trouble: Certainty.

2. No effort in the plan

The plan is actually a timeline. It doesn’t contain estimates of the amount of work to be done (effort).

Probability that the project is in trouble: Medium–high. Nobody has figured out how much needs be done, so – almost invariably – there won’t be enough people to do all the work. As a result, it is likely that people are working very long hours in order to stick to the timeline and keep the project on schedule.

3. Stories

Stories are great in novels and movies; they’re generally very bad in projects. What I’m talking about here is if you (a) ask the team what the project is about, (b) ask to see a copy of the plan or (c) ask for the status (especially this) and they give you a story: “This happened and then that happened and then so and so did this and that person went there …”

Probability that the project is in trouble: High.

4. Ggggggr!

No, it’s not an expression of frustration or anger – though if this happens you’ll be frustrated and angry and probably a whole lot more.

It’s when a project manager reports a project green (on target), week after week, and then suddenly jumps out of the cake and announces that it is red (in big trouble).

Probability that the project is in trouble: Very high or certainty. This project should be the subject of forensic examination to determine what’s going on. If it were me, I would also tell the project manager that if they ever did anything like that again … well, you know!

5. No status reports

Assuming that (ideally weekly) status reports are being issued, if the project manager misses a week, there is cause for serious concern. If they miss two weeks in a row, it’s highly likely that the project is in major doo-doo.

Probability that the project is in trouble: Missed one week: medium. Missed two weeks in a row: certainty.

6. “Everything’s under control”

You ask the project manager the status of the project and this is the answer you get.

Probability that the project is in trouble: Medium. My experience has often been that everything’s not under control.

7. “This is a very aggressive schedule”

Somebody – usually a manager, stakeholder, project sponsor or customer – says this about a schedule they would like you to adhere to.

Probability that the project is in trouble: From my experience, this has proven to be a certainty. My experience has been that anyone who says this has usually parted company with reality. To be balanced, though, let’s call it high. The good news, though, is that it’s often said at the beginning of a project and so you have the chance to do something about it before it grows into a nightmare.

8. “We have a high-level plan”

You ask whether a project has a plan and this is what you’re told.

Probability that the project is in trouble: Certainty. In my experience, this means the project has no plan to speak of.

9. Heavy multitasking

The organization is one where people multitask a lot – i.e. they’re spread across many things (more than a handful).

Probability that the project is in trouble: Medium–high. Also, it’s likely that people are working very long hours in order to stick to the timeline and keep the project on schedule.

10. “We’re 90% done”

The terrifying “we’re 90% done” usually means that 90% of the scheduled project time has gone – not that 90% of the thing has been done.

Probability that the project is in trouble: Medium–high.

11. “We don’t have time to plan it, just go do it!”

Somebody – usually a manager, stakeholder, project sponsor or customer – says this.

Probability that the project is in trouble: High. The good news, though, is that it’s often said at the beginning of a project and so you have the chance to do something about it before it grows into a nightmare.

12. “Great!”

You ask the project manager for the status of the project and this is the only answer you can get out of them.

Probability that the project is in trouble: Medium–high.

13. “You’ve got to work smarter, not harder”

Somebody – usually a manager, stakeholder, project sponsor or customer – says this to the project team (usually at a time when the team is already working crazy hours anyway).

Probability that the project is in trouble: High.

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If you find any of these symptoms on your project, the chances are that the problem lies in the plan, rather than in the execution of the plan. As the saying goes, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. Instead of telling everybody to work harder – i.e. continue to execute a bad plan – go back and revisit the plan. Do the six steps of chapter 18 again, come up with a new plan and agree it with the stakeholders. Then you can carry on and deliver the project with minimum pain.