6 Signs Your Project is Headed "South"
Monitoring and controlling a large complex project so that
it delivers the benefits envisioned in the Project Charter for the allotted
budget and on schedule is a very demanding and complex task. It requires the
project manager to be conversant with all the day to day details of the project
and know the status of each of the deliverables at any given time. Despite this
requirement to keep tabs on the details of the project, there are some tell-tale
signs that a project is headed for disaster that the project manager should
keep an eye out for.
- The SPI is less than one and trending lower. The
SPI (Schedule Performance Index) is the indicator used to determine how the
project is performing to schedule overall. This indicator averages the performance
of all project activities without regard for Critical Path activities. You will
be made aware of any failure to produce a key deliverable on time by your
stakeholders, but failure to complete non-critical path activities on schedule
can also lead to major project problems when the slack for these activities is
used up. Keep your eye on those Critical Path activities to guard against
slippage by all means, but also use the SPI as a general health indicator for
- The CPI is less than one and trending lower. The
CPI (Cost Performance Indicator) is similar to the SPI in that it is used to
indicate the overall performance of the project; in this case spending
performance is measured rather than schedule performance. Poor performance to
budget may be a more pernicious problem than poor performance to schedule.
Checks on the budget may be performed with less frequency and there are no spot
checks similar to a failure to produce a key deliverable on time. Maintaining a
good SPI by authorizing overtime or acquiring additional resources will lead to
budget overruns and the CPI is the key indicator of trouble in this area.
- A key software deliverable is being reported as
"on schedule" but there is no evidence of any code (or the evidence
doesn't match the reported progress). No-one likes to disappoint and software
developers may exaggerate or over-state their progress to avoid disappointing
you. They will do this fully intending to get their work back on track but will
slip further and further behind as time goes by. MS Project uses the percentage of work
completed as the status indicator for activities, however the amount of work
required to build the software is often a guess so it is no surprise that the
estimate of percentage completion would be an even wilder guess. One way to receive
an early warning of work gone off track is to break the software down into
smaller pieces, say modules or functions. You'll find this breakdown process
serves 2 purposes: it sharpens the estimate of the work required and increases
the accuracy of the progress report. Now, instead of reporting on percentage of
work done, report on modules or functions completed and report on that as a
percentage of the entire package.
- Development work on your software development
project is on schedule but the QA group is producing a large number of bug
reports, or the bugs being reported are "show stoppers". Show
stoppers are those bugs which prevent further testing. An excessive number of
bug reports or "show stoppers" indicates excessive re-work and it is
very likely that you have not budgeted for it. Always allow for rework in your
project schedule. The way the time is set aside and the amount of time will
depend on the SDLC chosen for your project and the complexity of the software.
An iterative approach will give you an early warning that you are about to be
swamped with rework. A waterfall
approach leaves all the rework to the end of the schedule. Avoid late surprises
by choosing the right approach for your project, or by mixing methodologies,
say producing a pilot or first iteration to prove the quality of your software.
An excessive amount of bug reports will alarm stakeholders with concerns about
the quality of the application but the project manager should also be concerned
with the affect on the schedule and budget.
- Trouble getting participation from stakeholders
on requirements. Participation could be in the form of contributing to
requirements definition, or signing off on the requirements which have been
gathered. This is an early warning sign that your project is off the rails. The
failure to engage in the definition phase of your project could lead to
stakeholders refusing to accept a system which they didn't approve or
contribute to. Failure to sign off is a different manifestation of the same
problem. Failure to get sign off will result in a schedule slippage during the
definition phase (where sign off ends the phase) or at the end of the project
where sign off is not forthcoming. Try alerting your sponsor to the problem
pointing out it's severity and potential affect on the project goals and
objectives with a view to engaging them to bring about engagement or sign off.
- Your risk register indicates excessive
unmitigated or residual risk. I refer to risks that exceed the tolerance
threshold for the project which have not had a mitigation strategy or
contingency plan implemented as yet. Residual risk is that portion of the risk
which remains after a strategy has been implemented. Excessive risk usually
indicates that one or more risk events will happen and the project will be
derailed by them. Even though it is usually the risk event we were blissfully
unaware of that bites us in the behind, do not ignore an excess of known risk.
Look at moving the schedule for implementing mitigation strategies forward, or
to new and better ways of mitigation when there is excessive residual risks.
You may even have to increase the budget to cover the cost of better mitigation
These 6 signs do not constitute a complete menu of
indicators that something is wrong with your project, they merely represent the
more common ailments. Do not hesitate to take corrective action if you should
spot any of these signs on your project. You will find that ignoring these signs
will ultimately lead to the derailment of your project.