4 Warning Signs to Help You Prevent Project Failure

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5 minutes

You’re halfway through with your project but something’s off.

Deadlines are delayed, your team members struggle to deliver the expected results, while stakeholders constantly shower you with emails demanding more reports and status updates. Whether it’s a major server crash or just a technical failure you missed on when assessing potential project risks, there are countless factors that can cause project failure.

Even so, you can prevent failing whenever you feel like you’re heading towards that direction. Here are the four core warning signs you should look out for as a project progresses:

1. Unclear scope

A widely spread mistake which determines project failure is poor planning. Without clear objectives and limits in mind, chances are your project will go in the wrong direction.

An unclear scope is the result of improper planning. This often translates into a lack of documentation and written plans that you, as the project manager, and your team can follow during project development.

It can also mean that you haven’t researched the project risks (time constraints, technical challenges, resource issues, etc.) well enough beforehand. As a result, your outcomes are likely to not match your client’s initial expectations.

A project management plan is there to help you fix this from setting achievable goals all the way to creating backup plans to deal with possible risks.

Check out our guide to learn how to put together the perfect project management plan for your needs or download the template we’ve put together for you.

Luckily, planning your project is now easier than ever. There are several different project planning tools to help you schedule every step of your project and ensure that you and your team are following the plan accordingly, within the agreed budget and deadline. This is not mandatory, but it can take away the burden of doing admin work like approving tasks, holding management meetings, or looking for a file you uploaded months ago.

Paymo for instance lets you plan out your tasks, set dependencies between them, and save the project structure as a template so you don’t need to create a new one from scratch next time. The good news? You can work with 4 different task views: Simple, Table, Kanban boards, or Gantt Charts. Each one adapts to a different work style, giving you more flexibility in terms of how you organize and conduct your work.

against project failure list

A detailed task list used by a web design team

2. Team communication problems

Communication is what keeps teams together. It also ensures that you’re nailing the project requirements from the very beginning, without team members wandering around because they don’t know which task to get on to next.

This issue can be fixed using project management or work management software. Tools like these foster accountability and guide everyone throughout their work. They provide message boards, easy-to-use comment, and file sharing features, as well as notifications to keep everyone in sync with project updates.

comment-on-task

Web design team members leaving comments on a task in Paymo

As a project manager, one of your primary roles is to ensure effective team communication. To add transparency to the whole project development process, encourage everyone to bring their own input and ask questions whenever needed.

NOTE

Not all communication problems can be solved with software though. Among the main ones, lack of motivation or focus, no experience in handling diverse project situations or problems, poor task descriptions, or even highly competitive team members who fail to support each other at the expense of project success are some of the issues worth mentioning.

3. No metrics and tools to track your work

If you’re just working on tasks and managing them without looking back at your performance, you’re heading nowhere. No metrics means there’s no way for you to actually notice when your project is already slipping through the cracks or worse, when it’s on a downward slope.

Trust software to do the monitoring job for you. Whether it’s a general project dashboard, a time tracker to record your work hours or a series of time reports, these will help you maintain balanced schedules to stay within a deadline and prevent your project from unnecessary time delays.

time tracker to prevent project failure

Paymo’s web time tracker

Have a look at these time reporting benefits to see how they can give you an overview of your team’s work and help you spot bottlenecks early on.

Time though is not the only thing you should monitor. Resource allocation is another project aspect worth your time. Coming up with a clear resource plan where you effectively distribute work will help you prevent overworking your team. This way, you’ll avoid any resource constraints and ensure that you’re working at full, yet optimal capacity

4. Customer detachment

Checked all the other three points but still feel like something’s missing? Turn your attention to your client. No project would be possible without their active feedback.

At any time though, your client could show less interest if they lose their trust in you or find a better offer. Check for disinterest signs such as not attending meetings anymore, constantly changing requirements, or indefinitely delaying regular payments.

To keep your clients involved in the project development process, actively communicate with them. Send regular project updates and exchange honest feedback at every project stage. This will keep them accountable and encourage them to offer guidance throughout the project’s progress. Communication is a two-way street afterall.

NOTE

Make sure you’re talking to the right people. Your contact should be authorized to supervise the project’s evolution and have a say in approving milestones. Clarify these roles from the beginning, preferably through a written form (project charter) so you’ve got a paper trail of conversations left as proof.


These are just four of the main causes for project failure. After going through them, find out if there’s any other hidden factor derailing your project. Like inadequate team training, setting unrealistic schedules, low morale, too many meetings killing productivity, or the dreaded scope creep, to name a few.

Have a look at what other project managers had to say on their biggest struggles during their career and what solutions they found when one of their project’s was facing a crisis.

Got any tips for others who are dealing with the same problems? Let us know about the ways in which you’ve overcome your own project danger signs and prevent project failure.