Projects don’t go as smoothly as we would like, even if we plan with the best software and do the best job we can. Project leaders need to learn to ride with the waves on a project and to deal with problems as they arise.
However, a better approach is to try to spot trouble on the project before it turns into a major problem. Continually monitoring the status of your project is the best way to do that, but what does it actually mean?
In this article we’ll look at the 5 places you can dig for trouble so you can seek out things that are worrying the team and do something about them while it is still early.
1. Your Schedule
The first place to look is your project schedule. Stored in your project management software, looking at your schedule in a tool like PrimaveraReader will let you quickly see how your project is progressing.
You’re looking to see whether tasks have been done at the right time, and more importantly, if the right tasks were done. Sometimes schedules have to flex around priorities and resource availability and that’s fine. But keep an eye on the bigger picture and carefully review:
· Dependencies between tasks
· Resource allocation for tasks (more on that in a minute)
· Key dates and milestones.
All of these could be areas storing up trouble if you aren’t able to spot problems early enough.
2. The Project Risks
Risks are problems waiting to happen, so it makes sense that you’d need to be all over your risk log to make sure that you are all over what might be a source of trouble in the future.
The common mistake with risk management is carrying it out once at the start of a project and then not continually identifying new risks as you go through the project life cycle. Remember to make time in your project team meetings to uncover any new risks that might be coming up, impacting your future work.
3. The Project Issues
Issues are things that have already happened and that are already causing trouble. In that respect, you should be aware of them and managing them already. It’s worth, however, taking the time to look deeply into these issues to check that your management plans are adequate. A poorly managed issue could turn into a much bigger problem unless it is dealt with quickly and effectively.
Troubleshooting issues should already be on your list of project tasks, but make sure that you keep a focus on that activity so that it doesn’t drop in priority.
4. The Requirements
Project requirements are a further source of potential problems. This is normally because of two reasons:
· Poor definition
· Poor quality
When you don’t know what you should be delivering it makes it very difficult to move the project forward with any sense of urgency. It’s also hard to see if you have done what you were supposed to.
Making sure the requirements are clear is the straightforward answer to this problem – straightforward to say but less so to do in practice! Document requirements and implement a robust change management approach so that you are clear about what, exactly, is in scope. Then watch for scope creep and any problems that might arise from stakeholders trying to get a little bit more into the project without going through the proper channels.
When what you are delivering is of poor quality that’s a whole different set of problems for the project team. Troubleshooting is likely to center around what has gone wrong and how you are going to rectify that. You’ll also want to get the key users involved so that they can advise on what would meet their quality requirements.
5. Your Resources
Finally, the last place to look for problems is in your resource pool. Resources – otherwise known as humans – can cause all sorts of trouble for projects. Some is intentional and some isn’t. You’ll need to be alert to the stakeholder who delays signing off a deliverable because he is blocking the project and the developer who is out of the office because she’s sick. Both cause issues for the project team and timescales, and both will have to be handled in a different way.
More generally, resources can be over-allocated (which is where they have too much work allocated to them in the time available) or under-allocated (which is where they don’t have enough to do). This can be a potential cause of issues on a project too because the individual who is too busy will struggle to meet their commitments and the individual who doesn’t have meaningful work to fill the day will struggle with poor motivation.
Check your resource reports in your project management software on a regular basis so that you can identify these types of resource problem before they turn into something much more difficult to manage.
These are the 5 places I would recommend you monitor regularly for problems. There are, of course, lots of other areas on your project that might be storing up trouble for you and the team like your cost management processes or vendor relationships. The best advice is to keep on top of your plans, stay close to your team and be on the alert for problems before they happen.