Project Warning Signs – They are Real

If you get sick … where do you go? The doctor, right? I realize some people are afraid of doctors and avoid them at all costs … but the answer is you go to the doctor. And whether you go or not, probably depends on your symptoms (warning signs).

Don’t ignore those medical issues. A good friend and colleague recently had a medical scare – sort of a mini-stroke / warning stroke that usually doesn’t cause any injury as long as you recognize it and get treatment fast. He did – thanks to his very observant and fast acting wife – and now his likelihood of an actual follow-up stroke is greatly reduced because he got treatment quickly.

Why am I saying this? Because doctors are important! No, that’s not why … but they are. So don’t be stupid!

A businessman takes his sick piggy bank to the doctor
Even projects get sick and when they do, it’s your piggy bank that hurts

The project management relevance… the point I’m trying to make is this, we get warning signs all the time in our lives – personally and professionally. It’s what we do with them that can determine how badly they affect us and what happens next. Two personal life examples: Your brakes squeak and if you don’t replace them, you’ll also be replacing your rotors and it will cost four times as much; The meat in your fridge smells bad … don’t use it. If you do, you’ll be … well … you’ll be real sorry, trust me.

The projects that we manage have warning signs as well. A good way to identify warning signs is to pay attention to deviations to your project plan, using project management software (such as FastTrack Schedule) can help with this.  Project financials that start to go south … first 5% over budget, then 12%, then 27% after a couple more months … are very real. If you ignore the early warning signs, you may find yourself too far down the road on your project to take any meaningful corrective action. How about a vendor that you’re using to deliver equipment over several months for major project? The first delivery is two days late. The next one is five days late. The third one may be on time, but the fourth one is three weeks late and you’re expecting several more deliveries from this vendor. If you don’t take action – and quickly – you’re going to find yourself with major delays or possibly even a situation where you can no longer get any deliveries from this vendor due to whatever issues they may be going through on their side of the project.

What I’m saying here is this … these are big warning signs and they are only two examples out of potentially hundreds I could come up with. Yes, so many things can go wrong, but we still need to be aware, plan, and be ready to act or react … and sooner rather than later.

How do we do this? Well, it’s basically risks that are lingering out there that are actually coming to fruition and threatening the well-being of our projects, correct? So the basis of this is good risk planning. To often, we procrastinate, minimize, or even outright avoid risk planning, which is a bad choice. While we can’t plan for all risks, we can plan for major ones based on our experiences, our teams joint experiences, and our project customer’s experiences, and business environment. All of these play a major part in our risk planning and management process. We should, at a minimum

  • Brainstorm with the team on major potential risk
  • Bullet point some response steps to each potential risk
  • Identify an estimated likelihood that the risk will occur
  • Assess the potential damage the risk could cause
  • Swear to revisit this risk list at least monthly (preferably weekly) on the project

Being proactive is of huge benefit to our health and to our projects. And at the very least we often get some sort of warning sign that tells us something is different … something is amiss. Only a fool overlooks those warning signs as nothing to be alarmed about. Check it out … the worst thing that could happen is actually the best thing … you could be wrong and you just go back to the status quo.

Summary / Call for Input

Risk management or risk planning are dirty words we hate to hear. It takes time and money to tackle possible risks. But really, it can be done in 30 minutes with the right focus. 30 minutes of risk discussion may help you and your team avoid a $50,000 oops later down the road on the project.

How about our readers? How many of you are good about risk planning? How many of you have missed a warning sign on your project, lived to tell about it, and care to share it with the rest of us? Let’s share our risk and issue experiences and discuss.

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
*Author of more than 4,000 expert professional project management and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos over the past decade
*Articles/professional content receives over 40,000 page views monthly
*Named #1 in the 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management
*Named a Top 10 Project Management Influencer to Follow in 2016
*The most read author of expert project management content on Project Times/BA Times for 2015
*Named most prolific provider of project management content over the past 5 years
*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
*Chosen by the Dept of Defense as a subject matter expert (SME) to help select IWMS software provider for the largest IWMS implementation ever awarded

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