In my experience, there are warning signs that a project may be going in the wrong direction. Below are some signs that indicate your project may be in trouble. I have found that these are not as obvious as time, cost and quality delays but have been useful to me in foreseeing when a project may be heading for problems.
1. You spend your time fighting fires
Most project leaders engage in resolving problems when they arise, but if you are spending time constantly battling problems and trying to find solutions, it going to impact your project. It shifts your focus away from the important tasks at hand.
As a project leader, it is important to maintain focus on the road ahead so that you can anticipate problems. Not having to constantly resolve issues is the key to getting ahead of any problems.
A productive way to for me to manage this is through constantly reviewing and refining the Risk and Issues log. This way if any issues do materialize they would have had visibility ahead of time and a possible resolution or mitigation available.
2. Stakeholders always delayed in providing signoff
Do you find your stakeholders have to be constantly chased for signoffs or approvals? This can be a sign that your stakeholders are not as engaged in the project as they should be.
Related Article: Who is Responsible for Declaring That a Project is Troubled?
The easiest way to make sure stakeholders provide signoff on time is by keeping them involved in the project throughout. The simplest way to do this is via regular status updates or meetings.
Generally, most stakeholders do not like meetings so they might be unlikely to show up. To resolve this, I normally reduce the length of the meeting or reduce its frequency. I have found that by having meetings at distributed intervals when signoffs will be required is the easiest way to make sure stakeholders are prepared for what is coming and what is expected from them.
3. Team members continuously billing longer hours to your project
Project teams will no doubt be required to spend longer hours during key phases of the project. If you, as project leader, are noticing a constant pattern of overtime hours being worked, it is time to question why is this happening.
Is the team facing challenges that are too difficult for the skills at hand? Are there distractions that are stopping the team from completing the tasks within the agreed time? These may be signs that the project is more demanding than previously expected and may result in the team getting burnt out. I have found that when this starts to happen, the best thing to do is to revisit the project plan or resource plan and make sure what is forecasted is accurate. Any learnings from a previous development should be integrated into the forecasting.
4. You spend more time attending change control meetings than you do stand-ups
Change is inevitable in a project, especially if the duration of a project is considerable. If you find you have to attend change control meetings frequently to put changes forward for acceptance to the change control board, then it is time to put the brakes on the project to review the cause of the changes and the effect on the project time, resources, and budget.
I have found that in the past as stakeholders request more and more changes, the best thing for me to do as the project leader is to slow down the project and dedicate time and resources to reviewing the design of the project to reduce any additional changes. It is never useful to stop completely the phase the project is in unless absolutely necessary. Completely stopping a project will only draw negative attention. It is wiser to slow down and dedicate resources and time to re-evaluating the reason for the changes.
As a project leader, it is time to re-evaluate the project and direction it is heading when you notice the above signs. Only then can you forecast and plan for potential issues and consequences.