The telltale signs of a failing project

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Every failure comes with a list of excuses while success depends on making all the right decisions. At least that’s the popular belief. Successful projects don’t always have a smooth start or, for that matter, a smooth middle part either. While a project can be overturned and salvaged at any point, time is of essence in such cases. That’s why it’s so important to understand those signs and be aware of them from the start.

To help you better understand these instances, I had a talk with my colleagues from different teams who shared their experiences from different angles. Thanks to them, I’ve collected all the early signs of a project that’s going downhill.

1. Lack of a detailed plan

It sounds so obvious and yet it is as common as muffins at a bake sale. We’re not saying that people go into projects head strong with only a vision, but there is more to a project plan than baselines, division of responsibilities and scheduling. You need to assess risks, and define your end goal. Be precise, write down everything you imagined for your project and share that with your partners. Remember to include all the steps and assets you deem necessary. If you agreed on A, B, C and D, don’t expect that E and F come in the package.

2. Poor communication

Communication is the key to every successful project and it’s the best telltale sign of things going south. If you’re not able to have an open discussion or you’re waiting on a response for days, those are the red flags that need to be handled.

A thing that goes hand in hand with that is an environment of anything goes, or commonly known, a “yes man”. “Yes man” is a person that will never say no to you, no matter the situation. Their mantra is – “fake it ‘till you make it”, or in this case, until you’re exposed. If you’re working with an expert, you’re not only paying for their services, but their education, experience and expertise as well. They will be the first to tell you “no” on issues like what is necessary and what can be done in a different and more efficient way. Remember, they are here to help you, not to indulge you. Who you talk to is also a big issue in this segment. If there are experts, don’t ignore their input. The easy way out tends to produce lesser results.

Another red flag is when people start playing the blame game. They like to think that they’re subtle, however, including new people in the cc column and not owning up to their mistakes shows you what kind of a person you’re dealing with.

3. Timelines sound too good to be true

It takes time to produce a quality project and that’s no understatement. There are stages that every project has to go through, and putting more people on it doesn’t mean that it takes less time. You’ve probably heard that joke about project managers thinking that 9 women can make a baby in 1 month. Not all stages of a project can be worked on simultaneously, and bringing new people in means that you lose time on bringing them up to speed and introducing them to the project in whole. If you contacted other firms and their estimates are a lot longer, this should be a red flag.

4. Testing is excluded from the plan

Testing should be done through every phase of development. After all, you’re paying for a product and service and functionality is the key. Take a web shop as an example, if it works but it’s slow, people aren’t going to use it. A research done in 2014 shows that 21% of people give up on using an online shop if the process takes too long and 25% gives up if the navigation is too complicated. Think about compatibility, search engine optimization, backup systems  and more.

When you find yourself in this kind of situation, it is important to take a step back and re-evaluate everything you’ve done so far. Assess what went wrong and what can be salvaged. Make a new plan and schedule and ask yourself what can you learn from a project like this.

Key takeaways?

Communication is the key – be clear about your expectations. Project that’s going downhill teaches you about the importance of communication. Be clear about your demands and listen to the other side. Do they think your expectations are too high, or are they telling you that you don’t need a specific thing you’re keen on?

With that question we touch on the other thing to learn from a failing project – cheapest way tends to end up more expensive. Going with the cheapest solution could result in you later paying a whole lot more to another firm to pick up the pieces. If you take away anything from a project like this, it should be to value the work developers do. And finally, research the people you venture into business with. Evaluate them from the first point of communication. Are they treating you like a partner, or are they talking down on you? Look into their last project, find them on social media and news websites.

Things like this get easier with time, you develop a sense for it. But nothing can be as powerful as your gut. Trust your gut!


1 comment

  1. Fantastic article, I have experienced this many times and communication is the key. Many CEO’s fail to understand and DONT want to understand what it takes to make a good quality product.

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