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Obviously your project is in trouble if you are missing deadlines and consistently exceeding the estimated effort and cost to get work done. However, you may have a project dashboard that actually appears to be on schedule, yet you are concerned about potential problems down the road.
There are things that you can look for that will give some sense as to whether there are potential problems lurking. At this point you can’t really call them issues or problems, but they can be identified as risks that have the potential to throw your project off in the future.
Are You Falling Behind Early in the Project?
Many project managers fall prey to the belief that if they fall behind in a project early on, they can make up the time through the remainder of the project. Unfortunately, there is a natural tendency to fall behind as the project progresses. First of all, the more distant you look, the less accurate you can estimate. Second, there are always things that come up on your project that you don’t expect. It is a good idea for project managers to try to get ahead of schedule early on in the project with the expectation that they will need the extra time later on when things came up that they did not expect.
Are You Identifying More and More Risks?
If you have a multitude of issues that you are addressing today, you probably would not be on schedule. However, you may be fine now, yet face a number of identified risks in the future. Of course, all projects have some future risks. However, if you see more and more risks as the project gets going, this could be a big warning sign that your project is in trouble.
Customer and Sponsor Participation Starts to Fade
Your customer needs to be actively engaged during the planning process and gathering the business requirements. If you cannot get them excited to participate during this timeframe, then you are really in trouble. However, many times the customer begins to get disengaged when the project is a third completed and the project work starts to turn more toward the internal project team. It is important to keep the customer actively involved.
Morale Starts to Decline
On the surface, if you are on schedule, there is no reason for morale to be going south. If you detect this is happening, it could be a sign that you are in trouble. You need to determine the cause. Morale might be slipping because people are being asked to work a lot of hours to keep the project on track. That would tend to be an indicator of trouble in the future. Another concern on the part of the team is that they may think the future schedule is unrealistic. In any case, poor moral needs to be investigated and combated.
One of the important responsibilities of a project manager is to continually forecast into the future to update the schedule, identify risks and manage expectations. A project that seems on track today could have major problems tomorrow. Keep your eyes open for these warning signs that things are worse than they appear. If you recognize them ahead of time, they can all be classified as project risks, and can be managed and controlled in a manner that will allow your project to succeed.