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Work Management
Last modified date

Jul 19, 2024

4 Warning Signs to Help You Prevent Project Failure

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Alexandra Cote

Blog average read time

4 min

Last modified date

July 19, 2024

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 a technical failure you missed when assessing potential project risks, countless factors can cause project failure.

Even so, you can prevent failing whenever you feel you’re heading in 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 that 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, the project manager—or product manager—and your team can follow during project development.

Note: If you want to learn the difference between product manager and project manager roles in terms of skill set, responsibilities, and experience, read this guide for beginners.

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 will likely 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.

Note: 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, or read this intro to methodology in project management.

Choosing the right tools used to be strenuous in practice. Luckily, planning your project is now easier than ever. Several different project planning tools help you schedule every step of your project and ensure that you and your team follow the plan accordingly, within the agreed budget and deadline. This is not mandatory, but it can take away the burden of administrative 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 four task views: List, Table, Board, or Gantt Charts. Each one adapts to a different work style, giving you more flexibility in organizing and conducting your work.

against project failure list

A detailed task list used by a web design team

Start planning your first project with Paymo.

Note: An online Gantt chart generator is usually the best way to lock down the scope monthly.

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 comments, file sharing features, and notifications to keep everyone in sync with project updates.


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

There are different metrics you ought to consider, like project estimates, internal costs, and hourly rates for a better understanding of why certain projects are more profitable than others. If you don’t know how to calculate project profitability, check out this guide.

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

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, 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 like the project timeline and allow them to add tasks independently, which we tackle in Paymo through our integration with Jotform. This will keep them accountable and encourage them to offer guidance throughout the project’s progress. Communication is a two-way street, after all.

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 leading causes of project failure. After going through them, find out if any other hidden factor is 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.

Look at what other project managers had to say about their biggest struggles during their career and what solutions they found when one of their projects was facing a crisis.

First published on December 11, 2019.

Alexandra Cote


Alexandra Cote is a SaaS content writer and strategist with a passion for workplace productivity, social media marketing wonders, conversion rate optimization, artificial intelligence, and keyword research. Reach out to her via LinkedIn.

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