Have you these symptoms of project problems? – MES005

Why does a project run into trouble?

There are a lot of reasons why a project might run into trouble and most project problems are indicated by specific symptoms. Problems of projects are often caused by changes in leadership, company organization or the company itself. All of them create FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. As a result we see inappropriate planning, schedule, staffing, and tons of other issues.

The reasons for project trouble might be impacted by you or not. From the outside key signs are very often rather clear. But very often they cannot be detected from the inside. Within daily work-load, unaware of changes in environment or the company, with lots of rookies in place, critical symptoms are not recognized or misinterpreted. There are always warning signs – the flashing yellow light indicating that a red light will follow.

This episode is about the key-symptoms I have detected during my career indicating that a project is in trouble. They do not mean that the project will fail, but they indicate that there’s something going wrong definitely. And they highlight that additional attention is needed – either to fix them or to escape them. This episode is about this very first step – the symptoms.

What are the warning signs that your project is in trouble?

I followed a variation of the Ishikawa-method to categorize the different symptoms. This gives us the opportunity to see the bigger picture. But it does not mean that the different symptoms could not be summarized under a different category.

Process & Definitions

  • Missing or shaky project direction
    Detectable by: Micro-management; Contradicting statements and direction advises; No direction at all – Silence
    Results in: Missing of scope and waste
  • Company statements conflict with project goals
    Detectable by: Less attention by company leaders; Statements about withdrawal of the project; Denial of continuity in support
    Results in: Loss of reliability by customer; Drop down of credibility
  • Absence of standards and methodology
    Detectable by: Different process actions for same situations; Constant introduction, withdrawal and re-introduction of tools, processes and methods
    Results in: Invention of processes and standards on-the-fly; Disturbance, frustration and intolerance; Decline of effectivity and efficiency


  • Bad communication within team
    Detectable by: Personal issues; Hidden conflicts; Unwillingness to speak with everybody
    Results in: Bad productivity; Frustration; Waste
  • Ignoring expert’s voices
    Detected by: Expertness requested but not followed; Over simplification of problems
    Results in: Wrong way of realization; Wrong destination; Waste of effort due to inability to realize the wishful thinking
  • Client becomes unresponsive
    Detectable by: Requests for information are not responded; There is no “No news is good news”; Critical decisions are made without client attention
    Results in: Sailing in foggy conditions; Silent drop by client; Withdrawal behind the scenes


  • The “vision guy” leaves
    Detectable by: No further technical lead guidance; Lack of response in general design questions
    Results in: Headless chicken mode; Management mess – who will be the successor; Re-planning/-building/-organizing, “Re-“whatsoever
  • Everybody is the visionary person
    Detectable by: Everybody is barking a different tree; Changes are requested you have already requested long time ago; Team members fight about specs; Project is accounted by corrected faults, not by completed features
    Results in: Arbitrariness; Bewilderment; Inactivity
  • No visionary guy at all
    Detectable by: Nobody cares for the project’s progress; Nobody is in charge; No report; No manager/leader; Project does not really matter – to anyone – besides you.
    Results in: Arbitrariness of project and result; Stopping of project the moment management gets aware of the situation


  • Project goals less important than company politics
    Detected by: Management is fiddling into the project’s leaders/managers work; Micro-Management by company-leaders; Thwarted project goals by conflicting company goals; Zero-fault targets (see also Episode #4); Dislikes by Executives; Boss’s statements like: “I know best what the customer wants”
    Results in: Project members become puppets; Project goals are ignored or silently withdrawn; Nobody takes any risk; Communication with client will drop down
  • Your project’s success is not defined
    Detected by: Senior management cannot describe the meaning and intention of your project; Stakeholders have different measurements for success; Client’s perspective not requested; Project targets are taken to a minimum level
    Results in: Wrong project outcome – customer frustration; Waste of effort for arbitrary goals; Frustration and demotivation


  • Too much overtime
    Detectable by: Constant overtime covering bad planning and bad scheduling; Weekend work becomes the regular working mode
    Results in: Bad morale; Bad mood; Attrition rate increases; Decline of productivity
  • Shortage in money
    Detectable by: Travel bans; Mandatory investment is not made; Project schedule stretched; Reorganization of company ongoing
    Results in: Window-to-market missed; Investment failed; The end of the project


  • How could you prevent to be trapped in such a project?
  • How to overcome such projects?
  • Why do you find yourself in such projects again and again?

I want to follow up these questions in one of the following episodes. Stay tuned.

If you already have your preferred solution how to prevent being trapped in such projects – let me know. I do appreciate all of your contributions.

[saf feature=”email” cta=”Let me know your way”]

Now I’d love to hear from you:

  • What’s your experience with projects running into trouble?
  • Do you have a warning sign that I didn’t listed here?
  • Or do you wanna agree or disagree with me about these symptoms?

I’d love to hear from you about what’s your detection and experience with project failing symptoms. Please comment here in the show notes and let me know what you think.


Thank You For Listening

Out of all the podcasts available in the Internet you tuned into mine, and I’m grateful for that. If you enjoyed the episode, please share it by using the social media buttons you see at the bottom of this note. Also, I would be very happy if you would consider taking the minute it takes to leave an honest review or rating for the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. They’re extremely helpful when it comes to the ranking of the podcast. For sure I read every single one of them personally! Or, if you prefer a more direct contact, don't hesitate and drop me a note at feedback@embeddedsuccess.com

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