In Ask Cadence this week, a question came in from a project manager asking what to do when you discover that project scope is ill defined after project launch. In the course of the discussion with the team, the resolution was a recommendation to return to planning and sponsorship, and ensure the organization understands the role of the project in operations.

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Understanding what to do to resolve this issue is only half the solution — the second half. Project managers must also develop a sharp eye for project warning signs up front. Here are five key areas to consider when evaluating whether your project is on track for success.

  1. Personnel. Watch for the key warning signs: do you have all the critical skills covered for your project team? Even more importantly, are you relying on part-time staff supplying critical skills, or carrying responsibility for tasks on the critical path? From simply being stretched across project work, these team members may begin falling short on meeting task estimates. Make sure that the right people working on these critical activities are the same people owning responsibility for their delivery.
  2. Planning. At its root, make sure you have a detailed plan of work that includes WHO is doing the task, WHAT the completion criteria is for the task, WHEN the task will be completed, and HOW MANY hours will be required, at the task level. If this key data is missing, you may be working off an incomplete breakdown of work; make sure you have your deliverables broken down into their task level activities.
  3. Scope. From the start, make sure your project scope is in writing, avoids ambiguity, and is approved by your project sponsor and customer. Anything short of this level of visibility to your scope risks project launch without clear specifications, firm design, and organizational buy-in and support.
  4. Organization. Do you know who your sponsor is? Do you have multiple sponsors vying for ownership of your project? A variety of sponsor/project manager relationships may suit your organization, but they all have the same thing in common: the sponsor has a vested interest in support of your project succeeding. While it may be hard to quantify this relationship, you will know it when it begins to fail: no project justification, no clear lines of communication and responsibility to — and through — the project sponsor, the sponsor is from a different part of the organization than users and customers, or the sponsor’s organizational role has changed due to a reorganization.
  5. Technology. If you are working on a “bet your business” project, make sure you have authority and willpower to withstand using new, untested technology and support systems, or using packaged solutions that require radical modifications to adjust to your organization. Doing so introduces unnecessary risk to your project.

Risk in any of these areas alone may serve only as a warning or a shot across the bow. But beware: project problems in one area typically herald a cascade of problems across the others. A swift solution exists in a solid and committed sponsor/project manager relationship.

If you have experienced any of the above on your projects, take a moment to learn more about the Cadence Project Sponsorship seminar coming up November 8-9 in San Jose, CA. Invite your project sponsor and join us, along with the foremost experts in the field, and get control of your projects with confidence.