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Top Five Warning Signs Your Project is in Trouble

Rob Einaudi writes for www.ework.com – a Ms.Money partner.

Sometimes, managing a project can feel like herding a bunch of unruly animals across a barnyard. Just when you think you've got all of them lined up, one makes a break for the fence and the rest get the urge to follow. When your purview includes both in-house and off-site contributors, the challenge of keeping on top of everything - and everyone - is only magnified. Wonder how things are going when your back is turned? Although you may not be able to always control every aspect of a project, if you encounter some the following situations, it should tip you off that all is not well. The sooner you notice any of these warning signs, the more quickly you can take care of the problems and get your project back on track.

1. Communication Breakdown

This is one of the easiest ways to tell that a project is not going well. Phone and e-mail messages to team members go unanswered for days - nobody likes to admit that they can't get the job done or are struggling with their part of the task, so they avoid contact. The involved parties can't seem to touch base, or if they do, they don't agree about what needs to be done. People are unclear about their assignments, or don't know to whom they should be reporting.

2. Budget Overruns

When your project's carefully drawn budget starts to burst at the seams, it's a red flag that something's wrong. Either the person at the top doesn't have a clear idea of what needs to be done, or those doing the work are getting off-track. Whether it's global or in just one area, keep an ear out for increased funding requests and find out why they're happening.

3. Scheduling Problems

Missed deadlines, extension requests, and rescheduled meetings are all common indicators of a troubled project. People may be unclear about the schedule or too overwhelmed to keep up with it. They may have trouble prioritizing their work if the timeline keeps shifting, or they may have taken on other assignments without your knowledge and are putting yours on the back burner. Independent contractors can have a feast-or-famine work schedule where by necessity they may accept too much work at one time - be very clear about all schedules and deadlines, and do your best to make sure your project is first priority.

4. Chain-of-Command Issues

A change in personnel on the assigning end may spell trouble for a project, as the new person may not be as committed to it or as interested in seeing it through. For instance, you may be in charge of seeing through a plan devised by your boss, but now you have a new supervisor whose priorities are different. Even at lower levels, if someone drops out it may affect the overall flow. Sometimes personnel might stay the same but their interests shift - a distracted superior may not give the project the same attention as formerly, jeopardizing your ability to move forward with hiring, assigning or salary aspects.

5. Lack of Clarity and Focus

Project meetings may take the form of brainstorming sessions when decisions about concrete objectives, assignments and schedules need to be made instead. Or in some cases, everyone thinks the project is someone else's baby - nobody wants to be in charge and the big picture can tend to get lost. You may discover that people involved are failing to focus on the real issues at hand, and that they are getting distracted from the main task and getting caught up with minor details. If you can keep everyone zeroed in on exactly what they need to do, you'll have gone a long way towards achieving the finished product.

Do any of the foregoing scenarios sound achingly familiar? Every project manager has experienced at least some of them, sometimes all on the same project. But if everything went off like clockwork and completely according to plan, they wouldn't need you, right? It's a given that any of these warning signs could happen to your project - how you handle them is where you prove your worth to the team.

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