What’s Going Wrong on Your Project?
Experienced project professionals have a kind of sixth sense when something is going wrong on their project. They can pick it up in the attitude of team members, in the questioning looks from stakeholders, in the atmosphere in a meeting – long before the project data starts to show there is a problem.
Those early warning signs – and let’s include reporting data in there too – are signals to dive into project performance and see what’s going on. Sometimes the root cause of the issue is obvious; other times you’ll have to dig to uncover the real story.
Here’s a helping hand to save you time with your analysis. We’ve listed five common ways to find out what’s causing the issue on your project. Which one of these will it be for you?
1. Review the project schedule
The project schedule is your first point of call for troubleshooting. Whether yours is in Primavera P6, Microsoft Project or something else, the schedule is a good source of data about what is going on.
In particular, look for:
- Tasks that have completed late or are on track to complete late
- Dependencies that have been missed or are at risk
- New dependencies
- Changes to dates that have yet to be reflected in the schedule
- How much buffer, contingency or slack has been used up already
- Tasks that have newly moved on to the critical path.
While you are checking the schedule, consider if the team is working on the right things. Has the project scope changed recently, or have the goals been reviewed? The schedule may show that everything is fine, but if the team is doing the wrong work, ultimately that is going to have a huge impact on the end deliverables. Make sure the schedule is up to date with latest agreements about project scope.
Another critical schedule-related area to review is resource allocation – we’ll come to that a little later.
2. Review the costs
The schedule is one side of the earned value management coin – project cost is the other. Take a look at the budgeted and actual spend figures and see whether everything looks as it should. If you have full earned value reporting set up, even better. Use the data from that to review performance. It will give you plenty of clues about what is going on and can quickly lead you to the exact areas you need to review in detail.
3. Review the resource plan
The schedule only shows half the story about how the work is going – the rest of the story is in the people allocated to do the work.
- Changes in resource allocation where someone may not have received a full debrief of what they are expected to do
- Over- and under-allocated resources
- New or unplanned time out of the office that will impact someone’s ability to complete their allocated work
- Teams that lack diversity (nearly 90% of project leaders feel that diversity increases project value, according to research from PMI)
- Resources allocated to work that is not a good match for their skills.
People-related problems might not always show up on the schedule, in particular if they don’t relate to a task allocation. For example, the project might hit a delay because a stakeholder is refusing to release a resource or authorize a purchase. The resource reports from your project management software wouldn’t necessarily tell you that, so be alert to the kinds of issues that may arise from stakeholder engagement.
4. Review the risks
This might seem obvious, but if the project feels like it is going off track, check the risk register. There could be something on there that has materialized and no one has realized it yet.
Risk management processes should mean that you are regularly checking the risk register and actively managing open risks. However, in real life projects get busy and perhaps that’s a task that has been overlooked for the past couple of weeks.
Go back to basics, review risks, identify if there are any new ones to add to the list and see if that sheds any light on why project performance is starting to be affected.
5. Talk to the team
Last on our list is talking to the team, although this list is not in any particular order and there’s a good case for saying this is one of the earliest tasks to do.
Use your team meetings or set up one-to-one conversations to ask how they are feeling about project performance and whether they have the same sense as you do that things are not all right. Ask what insights they have about the trouble and what they are picking up from their data sets. They might have access to different reports or analysis on specific areas of the project that would be useful for your troubleshooting.
Problems are better solved together, so convene a workshop – virtual or in-person – to go over what you are seeing. Use the time to dig into the root cause, looking at all aspects of what could be pushing your project off track. If you’ve picked it up early enough, it might not be obvious. If you have enough data, you might agree on the source of the problem straightaway.
When you know what going wrong on your project, you can work to resolve the issues and get the project back on track.
Regular project health checks can keep your project on track and proactively identify negative performance trends so you can do something about them.
Project performance issues can arise from any number of metrics, and the five areas above are your starting point, rather than a definitive list of everything that might be causing a problem. In practice, issues are often due to multiple events affecting various areas. These five trouble spots are areas to monitor regularly and keep at the forefront of project reporting so you can quickly spot and act on trends, and dig into anything that isn’t obvious.