Project Managers: 5 Signs Your Project is Setup For Failure

Read time: 8 minutes

This article was written by Kimberly Misutka, Project Manager at Top Draw.

As project managers, we are accountable for the success of our projects. We mitigate risks and try to prevent things from going off the rails, without letting it affect our productivity. However, sometimes we are handed an approved project that needs more attention than accounted for. Here are the most common risks I’ve experienced at the offset of a new project, and how I managed to navigate around them.

1. Your Team Didn’t Properly Estimate the Project

If I had to pin point one thing my team could improve on, it would be estimations. Estimations are always tricky because each person on the team breaks down a project differently or has a different idea of how they would complete the project. The only way to protect your team and reputation is to have solid ‘Assumptions’ in your proposals or project charters. Are your project managers able to see proposals before they go out to clients? This is a good best practice, but it’s not always plausible due to workload. Slowly educate your team to identify risks or unknowns. I would love if everyone on my team was able to flag risks or something fishy.

If you’ve identified risks too late and your ‘Assumptions’ are too generic, reduce your hourly rate. Your team still needs the same amount of time to complete the project. So if you absolutely need to proceed without rocking the boat, and there is no clear path to a change request, adjust the rates for some, if not all, departments on a project.

2. Your Contact For the Project is Not Authorized to Give Approvals

I once worked with a stakeholder for 6 months before learning he was neither the subject-matter expert nor the person who was able to give final approval of the overall project. He gave approvals at each milestone, but he left the final approval to the actual stakeholders – which of course added additional budget and time to the project.

You can prevent this situation by asking what each stakeholder’s roles and responsibilities are at the kickoff meeting. While I did do this, sometimes clients pull fast ones on you. To make sure your bases are covered, after the kickoff meeting, follow-up with the information you gathered and notify the client that any stakeholder changes could potentially delay your project and/or add budget. Project managers are already good at documentation, but record everything possible! If I talk to a client on the phone, I follow-up via email to reiterate the conversation so that there’s a paper trail. I’ve been fed to the sharks one too many times to not know better now!

3. There’s Third-Party Collaboration For The Entire Project Cycle

Clients typically have contracts with several vendors at the same time, so it’s not unusual to be working with a competitor on different areas of a project. I’ve typically learned about the collaboration with a third party after the contract is signed, or half-way through a kickoff meeting. While this is late, it’s still salvageable for a project manager.

Now is your time to strike – submit a change request for collaboration time you didn’t account for, or additional time needed to create files that are necessary to move your project forward but that the third party wasn’t instructed to supply you. Third-party collaboration should also equal additional time to your estimation. Account for additional meetings, review periods, and communication.

4. Your Client Has Undocumented Expectations For the Project

Always remember that clients are people too. They expect to receive a puppy tied with a perfectly wrapped bow, sitting on a silver platter, as your final deliverable. Instead, to them, you delivered a wet dog from the pound – even though you followed the scope!

Find out exactly what was discussed between Sales and the client, because the little details count even if they are not in the proposal. Clients can’t necessarily give you approvals on time, but they definitely will remember what your Sales team promised 7 months ago because it was important to them. When Sales signs a project, instruct them to do a project brief for your team. It’s also a good idea to schedule an internal kickoff before the external kickoff, and to come with questions so you get as much information as possible to be at the top of your game. Set the expectation for your Sales team to document conversations with clients as well. It’s important to make a good impression on the client the first time you meet them and avoid having to perform damage control.

5. Your Resources Are Dedicated To Other Projects At The Same Time

Unless you’re managing a couple huge projects at a time, chances are that your workload encompasses a bunch of mid-sized projects with different project teams. It’s easy to step on each other’s toes and book the same resource for the same deadline. And hey, people get sick and miss deadlines! Sometimes you are faced with deliverables that only one person can complete (while complaining) for you.

Resourcing meetings with the other project managers in your company are helpful. You can duke it out and fight over resources or shuffle people accordingly. Is your client reasonable? I’ve never had an issue pushing a deadline if someone on the team needed more time, or fell ill, provided that I committed to an alternative deadline. Take a look at the Top Draw case study to see how Function Point helps deliver real-time visibility so Top Draw can read a timely pulse on project health and workload capacity.

Top Draw Inc. is a web design and online marketing company in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Comprised of pragmatic creatives & practical strategists, our project teams are structured to work collaboratively with our clients. Everyone participates, shares knowledge and contributes to the success of the project. That’s what we call ‘For the Win.’