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Signs of Problems on Projects (SOPP)

IT Projects succeed, fail or deliver sub-optimal results, one day at a time. Project success and failure is relatively predictable, based on the daily activities performed by the project team. 

An experienced project manager takes note of the daily activities and compares progress against the plan to predict the likely outcome of the project.If you are a project manager, project sponsor or business customer paying for IT project results and are feeling uncomfortable about what you hear and see regarding the project, then review this list of signs of problems on projects. 

If any of these ring true for you, then your senses are accurate and you need to start asking the hard questions until you feel comfortable again. These are indications that point to bigger issues, in my experience of managing and studying troubled projects.

SOPP #1: There is a new plan, every time you meet with the project manager.

SOPP #2: Status reports talk about activity, not task completion. "Joe updated database" instead of "Joe completed task #457."

SOPP #3: Status reports and meetings are expressed in passive voice without specificity. "We need task 38 to be initiated", instead of "Sally has agreed to complete task 38 by next Tuesday."

SOPP #4: Multiple, recurring daily meetings, with large audiences, without consensus on expected outcome of meeting and no action items assigned or followed up on.

SOPP #5: Open door, closed mind policy. "I don't care if you are overworked, you must just work harder otherwise my plan doesn't line up." If you choose to ignore capacity warnings from your SMEs and project team, then proceed at your own risk.

SOPP #6: Project manager assumes he/she/they know more than SME's, and doesn't need input on planning or problem resolution.

SOPP #7: Project manager delegates everything, including leadership tasks to SME's and inexperienced assistants.

SOPP #8: Project Team members communicate different priorities to external parties. "Requirement 47 is top priority", "No - function 32 is higher priority."

SOPP #9: Inconsistent and ever changing terminology when communicating to team, project sponsors and managers. "Cycles, buckets, functions, capabilities."

SOPP #10: Passing the buck when failure to meet a deadline is imminent. "This is now your project - it is your decision."

SOPP #11: Reluctance to quickly escalate issues that are blocking project progress. This may be driven by political issues.

SOPP #12: Promising unrealistic goals to external parties. "You will get daily status reports", without confirming the resources required to deliver on the promises.

SOPP #13: Reactive planning. "We will wait until we have an issue before we plan for that."

SOPP #14: Frequent replanning due to milestones being missed, without heads rolling.

SOPP #15: Behind the scenes planning and reporting. Late night calls with senior managers that exclude the designated project manager.

SOPP #16: Subject matter experts and project team members quitting the company, and walking off the job.

SOPP #17: Project managers trotting out buzzwords, without specifics. "Socializing", "Raising the Bar", "Low hanging fruit","Thinking outside the box", instead of "Sally's team will deliver module XYZ on November 15 at 4 PM. 

SOPP #18: "Conceptual planning" instead of "Let's review draft #3 of the Project plan, with milestones."

SOPP #19: Project manager passively relying on department leads "What status reports do you provide?" instead of "This is the format of status report I need, can you provide it?"

SOPP #20: Hordes of project managers involved in planning, but lack of accountable leadership. No one person standing up to say "This is not happening on MY watch."

SOPP # 21: You cannot get access to the current project plan. The project manager restricts access to the project plan and only reveals portion of the plan to selected parties.

SOPP# 22: End users of the system are not engaged as the project is rolled out. "They will attend training later." Unless end users are engaged and have a level of understanding and buy in for the system, your project faces an uphill battle.

SOPP# 23: The project manager always defers you to someone else when you ask a question about the project. "What is the current plan to finish the next module? - Ask Sally, she is the SME." Then is Sally running the project?

Presence of these symptoms do not mean that a project is unrecoverable. However, if these signs manifest and your frequently observe them on a project, then you should heed the advice of seasoned project managers and dig deeper than normal. 

You will probably not like what you uncover, but it is better to know sooner than later. Bad news does not age well.

Copyright 2018 Wayne Botha Email Wayne Cell: 860.214.4897