Top Tips: The Warning Signs of Project Failure

A study by IBM found that only 40% of software projects successfully meet schedule, budget or quality targets.

A separate study by the Portland Journal found similarly concerning results, with between 65 and 80% of projects failing to meet their objectives?

You have to admit, it is a little startling to see two separate statistics demonstrating just how frequently projects fail. In fact, it must make you wonder if you would recognise your own development project turning sour.

Refresh your memory and boost the chances of project success with 11 tips to get the best out of your project performance assessments.

Have you considered the project objectives?

No matter the type of project its overall objective will always be to deliver results on time, within budget and of a good quality. As a means to assess progress towards achieving these objectives we tend to flood projects with Key Performance Indicators. It is all too easy to get caught up in the creation of indicators that you forget what it is you are actually trying to measure. Make yourself a list of the projects KPI’s and note down what they are actually measuring. This will allow you to determine if you can track the progress of the project as a whole, rather than just individual project stages.

  • Make sure you know what all of your performance indicators are measuring

  • Remind yourself of your indicators and ensure that you can monitor the progress of your project as a whole and are not limiting yourself to a short-term view

Are you making the right kind of progress?

Although KPI’s undoubtedly help drive productivity, they can ironically double up as a distraction and delay progress. Generalised KPI’s may lead to activity, but it may not lead to progress. For example, a KPI to run seven tests a day would spur action but are they the right seven tests that actually advance the project overall. As far as the indicator is concerned its requirements have been met therefore progress has been made, when in reality the amount of progress made is zero.

  • Double check that your performance indicators are pointing the focus on making the right kind of progress

Are you tracking your milestones?

A key staple of any development project is the use of delivery milestones. If you aren’t making use of them, you should. Milestones allow for the tracking of planned schedules. Consistently meeting project milestones is a sure sign that things are progressing nicely, but not having a perfect record is far from unusual. Having the odd blip in an otherwise perfect record isn’t much of a cause for concern, and could be the result of an unplanned absence, but if the trend of deviation is always for the worse you most certainly have a problem on your hands. However milestones are not an absolute measure of completeness, completing four out of five milestones does not mean you are 80% done.

  • Take a look in the rear view mirror and observe the trends from previous milestones, are they positive or negative?

  • Don’t gloss over deadline failures. Take stock, adjust and re-plan dates accordingly.

Do you understand why you need more budget?

Having to approach project stakeholders for an increase in budget is one of the most embarrassing moments you could ever experience. Decided at the beginning of a project, the budget is what dictates the volume and type of resources that can be utilised throughout a projects lifetime. In the best case scenario there should be no reason to exceed the limit. However as the saying goes the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. It isn’t unexpected to ask for small increases to accommodate unavoidable circumstances, but if you repeatedly find yourself in front of the board there must be a cause.

  • Review the factors that determined the original budget. Are they still the same, or have they become irrelevant as the project progresses?

  • Review the resources currently being utilised. Have they changed from the original plan? If so are they worthy of the difference in cost?

Are you a defect away from disaster?

For a project to go from conception to completion without experiencing a single defect is very unusual. You could even go so far as to say that a handful of defects is normal. However, excessive levels are an undeniable proof that there is an unresolved issue somewhere in the development process. More often than not, defects are a result of rushing to meet a deadline and omitting important processes, such as testing, which raises the question why is there a need to rush. However, if you don’t know the norm for your development how can you tell if levels are bordering on extreme?

  • If you haven’t been already, make sure that you have been recording each defect discovered.

  • Run an analysis on any discovered defects and see if they can be traced back to a common source.

Do you still have the support of the stakeholders?

Whether they realise it or not a projects stakeholders can provide a realistic insight into how it is progressing. Having stakeholders that are willing to participate in a projects tasks or events signifies that they believe in its value. If you were to experience a significant drop in these engagement levels you know that something is going wrong somewhere. It may be that they no longer see a use for the product or service, or they are losing confidence in the end value.

  • Make sure that you are still regularly checking in with your stakeholders.

  • When you speak with your stakeholders, are you getting their view of the project?