In my previous post, I discussed points to help prevent problem projects. Here, I'll talk about what to do when you realize an existing project is headed for trouble.
Let me try to explain it like this: If you are driving a vehicle, what happens when you see a red light? You know that when you come to it, you will stop. After the light turns green, you will look both ways before proceeding. When our projects hit red lights, we as project managers must also stop and assess our environment.
As you look at the big picture, review your inputs, factors and the overall sanity of the project. Examine your risk register or issues log. Is the status of risks or issues showing something that was missed and needs to be addressed immediately? For example, something easily overlooked is when the schedule for applying security patches is on the same timeframe as the testing phase. This sort of impact can cause testing to grind to a halt, with the team unaware of the source of conflict. A review of the risks or issues log would have highlighted these events.
Another source to review is your budget plan. Have unplanned circumstances arisen, such as the need to produce more prototypes? Does the acquisition of resources require additional time? Is equipment becoming obsolete or in need of repair? Expenses such as these caution you to slow down and reevaluate your budget. Be aware that ultimately, you may need to secure a renewed budget approval.
Consider client relationships as well. Are your clients becoming unsatisfied and impatient, regardless of how well you're completing deliverables and meeting milestones? If so, you may need to allay fears or even compromise on a feature of your project. Perhaps that means reconfirming a budget forecast, or something as simple as picking up the phone and calling the client with an impromptu status report.
One last piece of advice: Take a look at lessons learned. It's very likely a previous project manager may have outlined specific pain points on similar problem projects. These will provide valuable insights that even the most technically experienced project manager can lean on. They're good for figuring out what to do in grey-area situations: when it was difficult to get management signoff on a needed budget increase; how a concern was handled when a client change request was denied; or how to garner support when team conflicts arose.
After you recognize there's trouble ahead, how else do you assess the size of the problem?