7 warning signs your project is going to fall down
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While taking the first step to working on a project is a good move in the direction of achieving your goals, not every project you work on is going to be successful, let alone your magnum opus. Not every project is going to be so good that you’re going to want to put it on your LinkedIn profile.
As a project manager, you can expect that some of your works are going to be abysmal failures. Some of these failures are systemic and there’s really nothing you can do about them because they are out of your control. Others are due to things that you can control and therefore figuring out why they came about in the first place should help you solve them.
So today we’re going to focus on that second type of failure; the one you can do something about. The important question here is whether you can tell if a project is headed for a failure early enough to do something about it. The short answer is yes. The long answer is that there are quite a few warning signs you can look out for that tell you when a project is headed south at the speed of failure. Here are 7 of the most important ones.
#1. The Visionary Leader Leaves the Team
The fact of the matter is that every project as that one person that holds everything and everyone together like glue. This is the champion and key Assignment Man of the project. They are likely from top management and are in charge of determining the grand vision, the measurable goals, and the steps to be taken to achieve those goals. This person has developed all of the right relationships with all of the right people and is able to communicate with each team member, delegate tasks, and encourage and motivate everyone to do their part to help make the project a success.
“When that person leaves, there is naturally going to be an unnatural amount of worry in the team,” says Adam Gresham, of proofreading Assignment Geek.
If, for example, they’re leaving because they’ve been promoted to a higher position in the same company, then it’s not a bad thing. They’ll still be just a phone call away and so you can call them when you really need them. If, on the other hand, they leave the company altogether, then you can be sure they saw some problems that weren’t going to make their life any easier if they stayed. Maybe company politics became too overwhelming, or there was a major takeover, or something like that. So, the person felt that it would be best to just leave altogether.
Of course, there are those times when the project survives, even when the vision guy leaves, especially if they had mentored someone to take over when they left. In such cases, what the team will feel is anxiety over the future, but not total panic, since there is a clear structure for how the stewardship of the project will be handed over. However, if that’s not the case, then the project might not survive losing its metaphorical head for very long.
#2. There isn’t a Visionary Leader to Being With
If the project is important enough, then you can be sure there will be a leader tasked with the sole duty of ensuring the project reaches completion successfully. However, if you can’t clearly identify who the visionary leader is, then there is reason to worry. If nobody cares about a project enough to steer it in the right direction, and the project does not seem to have a direct bearing on the success of any team member’s career, then it’s probably doomed from the start.
For you, it will be even scarier if the project happens to be what puts food on your table. If the people you rely on to steer the project forward don’t seem to care, then maybe you should start thinking about finding a way out.
There are many ways you can tell if a project lacks a visionary leader. People may not attend meetings, or meetings may be cancelled a lot. If major decisions are often postponed, even when it negatively impacts deadlines, then that’s a red flag. Are people answering your emails? Is everyone making the assumption that someone else will handle something that really should be taken seriously? All of these are clear signs your project lacks a leader who can steer it in the right direction.
#3. Everyone Is Trying to Dominate
This is the other side of the coin where there is no clear leader. In this case, everyone is trying to dominate the project and lead and this is just as bad as the other case. Since everyone wants to show just how important they are to the project, they will all try to mark their territory.
The effects manifest themselves in a variety of ways. If you notice many different people asking you to make changes or improvements on the same thing, especially when the people on the project keep growing in number and every new guy wants to assert dominance, then there is a problem. Now the project becomes a matter of how many corrections you can make, rather than how many new features you can add. The team members will fight over things and you will be the proverbial grass that suffers the most as the bulls duel it out.
A good solution to this is to pick a single person to be the main contact. They will be the one you look at whenever a matter cannot be resolved. If there is only one person to make the final decision, then the other persons will have to defer to that person.
#4. Corporate Politics Take Over
Ideally, a project should be about solving the customer’s problems and profiting the business. However, politics has its way of rearing its ugly head more often than not and subverting the proper goals of the project. Sometimes, it’s the decision makers who constantly receive protection, such as when they make a proposal that isn’t the best, or rejects one that’s clearly good. In such cases, their immediate subordinates will protect them. In such cases, you shouldn’t be afraid to speak your mind, even if the boss does not accept your proposal.
Sometimes the whole team is just trying to play it safe and so the boss ends up having all these protective layers beneath them. At other times, there are different factions on the team fighting for supremacy and you find yourself in the middle of the storm. If that’s happening, the success of the project is likely to be negatively impacted.
#5. Success cannot be Measured
If your senior management has trouble describing your project in clear terms, then that might mean your project is doomed. Of course, not every project requires a comprehensive plan or a special resume writer to make plan it down to a ‘T’. However, it is important to know where the project is headed and how to know when it gets there. If every stakeholder has a different way of measuring the success of the project, then there is a serious problem.
Of course, every project worth its investment will have its fair share of conflicts. However, there should be some agreed upon goals and measurable KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that give the product a clear sense of direction. If they are lacking, then there’s a problem.
#6. The Experts are Ignored
Expert recommendations are important to the success of a project, so if they are ignored, then you should start worrying about the success of that project. Sometimes, the people who are supposed to be steering a project in the right direction might ask experts for their recommendations and then choose to do the exact opposite of what was recommended. Then, of course, they’ll be the first to complain when things don’t work out.
If you notice the key people in a project blatantly ignoring expert recommendations, claiming that the real problems with a project are easy to solve and they can handle it, only to prolong the project as they fumble with their half baked solutions, then you have every reason to worry. That project is likely going nowhere.
#7. The Leaders Unreasonably Avoid Risks
We all want to be part of a project that did something new and exciting. We want projects to have some innovation that makes them memorable and important in their own right. And yet, a lot of people and businesses are terrified of risk. The thing is, though, that creativity is an important part of change, and quite often then means taking some risks here and there. And yet senior management will often find themselves stifling innovation through too many little restrictions.
Project leaders should think about risk and the appropriate way to respond to it. If they’re obsessed with testing everything and avoiding risk, they’re going to end up with a project that may have been finished on time and on budget, but is abysmally underwhelming.
A good way to guard against this is to make people responsible for their criticism. Every no must have a solid reason behind it so that the one that came up with the idea can figure out if there is a way to solve the problem or not.
These are only a few of the warning signs that will show you your project is headed for failure. There are many more, of course, but these are the most important ones. By identifying the problems early enough, it is easier to get to work solving the problem before it gets out of hand.