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Author: Shane Vaz

4 Signs Your Project is in Trouble

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.

Forget Project Management and Embrace Project Leadership

Don’t pretend to be a project manager when what you really need to be is a Project Leader. In my experience, a Project Manager should only be a title you put at the bottom of your email signature. Project Leaders deliver successful projects.

A Project Leader is a person that puts aside self-interest in favour of the interests of the organisation, stakeholder, and team. A Project Leader does not try to manage the team by telling them the tasks that they need to complete or when to complete those tasks.

A Project Leader sets out the goal and then watches the team fulfil that goal. A Project Leader guides and nourishes a team in order to make sure the project is successful. A leader’s role is to support the project team and stakeholders in becoming self-sustaining and evolving in a positive manner. A Project Leader’s job is done when they are no longer needed, and the project, team, and stakeholders are running on autopilot.

Why we don’t need any more Project Managers

This world has enough managers – we need more leaders.

Unfortunately, I was once told that this world has 2 types of people. Those that are leaders and those that are followers. Which one are you? Which one do you want to be?

As a Project Leader, you must be able to guide from the front. It is about realizing the potential of the team and using skills and resources at your disposal to achieve the best from the team. A manager tries to manage the team by bending it to fit the project. A Project Leader will allow the team to bend itself to fit the project. A manager can, at times, stifle creativity by trying to box the team or stakeholders into pigeon holes just to get a project delivered.

Leading is not about dreaming

Project Leaders are governed by the same principles as a Project Manager. Do not think for a moment that Project Leaders simply run in front of a team. A Project Leader will run in front, side and behind a team when the moment requires.

A Project Leader will also be defined by the success or failure of the project and need to conform to the same boundaries of time, cost and quality as a Project Manager.
The one quality that separates a Project Leader from a Project Manager is the ability of the leader to guide the team and stakeholders. A Project Leader will allow the team to make decisions and hold each other responsible for those decisions. A leader sees the strengths and weaknesses of a team and feeds those strengths to bring confidence and coherence to the team while dealing with weaknesses head on.

Related Article: So You’d Like to be a Project Manager

Forego the fancy title

In favour of experience. It is nice to say you are a Project Manager, the title itself promotes seniority, trust, experience and success to the people reading your resume. What you need to put down on your business card is that you are a Project Leader. If you are currently a Project Manager stop and take stock. Are you doing right by your team by trying to manage them? Surely they are competent and self-sufficient to govern themselves. The team should know what is required and be able to commit to delivering against those requirements.

I say to all Project Managers, don’t make the mistake of believing a team needs managing. What it needs and desires is leadership. Someone to behave as a leader.