Wednesday, April 19, 2017

8 Signs of troubled projects for project sponsors

When you’re dealing with a troubled project, there are usually a number of red flags surrounding you. This article is written from the perspective of senior management (for instance the project sponsor, members of the Steering Committee, or the executive management).

All of us have endured troubled projects that didn’t accomplish their intended business goals. Such watermelon projects, which come across as green on our project dashboards but are, in fact, red, upon closer inspection, are very typical in a company’s project portfolio.

Generally, during the failure of a project, the last people to find out are those in senior management. However, at some point, failure becomes readily apparent. When the scenario gets to that point, you might not have any other choice but to start everything over from scratch. What separates failure from success is isolating the red flags of a troublesome project early. Here’s a brief synopsis of early signs to look out for in order to prevent a disaster.

1) Always Green Lights, Minimal Activity

Most of us are known with labeling a project as green when they are budgeted and scheduled; yellow when the project is under the gun, and red when the project is late and over budget. Maybe your primary project has been reporting green for a while, but strangely, there’s been minimal activity associated with it. That’s a strong indication of the project being in dire straits.

2) Many TBD’s (To Be Determined)

Proper issue and risk management is vital for a project to be successful but is typically neglected. If your primary project has surpassed the early stages, yet marking plenty of TBD’s in the “resolution” column for issues and risk, then it’s more than likely facing a series of problems, regardless of whether a schedule discloses it.

3) Avoiders

The charge leader in your primary project might be a business line manager or a formal project manager. No matter who they are, your gut is telling you that they’re avoiding you intentionally. Maybe they’re not seen in meetings, they walk the other way when they see you coming, they don’t pick up their phones, or aren’t sending you status updates. Chances are you’re being avoided because the project is in trouble.

4) Problematic Trends

An up-to-date Product Backlog tells you exactly what has been accomplished for what money in what time. Or methods like EVM (Earned Value Management) to identify the progression of a project could be used. They contrast real results by what was intended, expenses incurred, and time allocated. While your projects might not use these methods, you can catch substantial drops or increases in expenditures, large modifications to work being sent, or immediate alterations to a timetable without new dates. Pay close attention when this is the case.

5) Non-Progress Reports

You’re smart, so you have consulted your project manager about offering weekly status reports. That said, those reports don’t show any sign of progression, ironically. More specifically, if you’ve obtained a couple of weekly status reports without chronicled progression, chances are your project is either in trouble, or about to be.

6) Failure to Display Physical Results

During the timeline of your project, you request a demonstration or assessment of finished work so far (Sprint Reviews for example). However, the meeting for such reviews is regularly postponed and rescheduled, perhaps by days or even weeks. Further, you’ve made a spontaneous visit to the project leader, but instead receiving a demonstration of work done you are getting documents, PowerPoint presentations and a lot of hot air talk. If this is the case, you probably have a troubled project on your hands.

7) Lack of Communication

Poor engagement, whether it’s informal and formal, is a red flag. If the stakeholders, including users and group members, aren’t interacting with one other, guess what? You’re facing trouble.

8) Instinct

You are mindful of what projects are high-risk. When your primary project is mentioned, you know something is up, even if you can’t pinpoint what. By trusting your instincts, you’re inclined to discover something noteworthy.


Be mindful that these red flags are just signs, and nothing more. They don’t suggest failure of a project, or that people have failed. Each project endures its highs and lows, and you simply have to account for them. The red flags might suggest that a project is in need of proper attention from executive management.

Managers are encouraged to do nothing more than observe closely for a couple of weeks before taking action. A detailed project review is required when no tangible improvements have been realized in this period.
Posted on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 by Henrico Dolfing