• Doug Ringer

3 Warning Signs That Your Development Project is Out-of-Control

Have you ever known or been part of a development project that missed deadlines and performance goals?

If you have seen this multiple times, did you notice any patterns or similarities in the projects?

Unfortunately, I have been involved with a few projects that fall into the category of “out-of-control”. In hindsight, the warning signs are plainly visible. They were not so clear when in the middle of the chaos and there was no body present to alert the team to the peril the project was in. Today I will give you 3 warning signs that your project is out-of-control.

“The mirror of hindsight always gives us a 20/20 view”

1. Frequent Schedule Slips

The most obvious clue that a project is in trouble is the frequent delays in schedule. The team or team leader always has a good reason for these slips. The causes of theses missed deadlines sound “reasonable” and therefore are difficult to refute. However, a miss is a miss and will jeopardize the whole business case for project if allowed to continue unabated.

2. The Project Leader Isolates His Team

As the schedule slips continue, their cumulative effect puts the team and their manager under increasing pressure. A frequent tactic used by the manager is to sequester or isolate the team so they can focus on the problems. This is a reasonable approach. However, if the isolation is taken to the extreme, the team stops communicating with anyone outside the team and a downward spiral begins.

"We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." – Albert Einstein

The isolation prevents outside influences and knowledge from flowing into the project. Using the logical outcome from Mr. Einstein’s quote, the project that is off-track and isolated will never complete the project.

3. Project Reporting Contains Fewer Details

As the project continues to unravel with more frequent slips and increasing isolation, the reporting to the outside world becomes less frequent and with fewer details. Here are a few reasons for this:

  • pride

  • shame

  • fear

  • frustration

If this pattern starts, the only remedy is for the team leader, or someone above her, to call for frequent/daily status updates. These should be 15 minutes in length, or less and give the team the opportunity to request assistance and to report on success.

The death spiral of a failing project can be stopped. It requires someone who can accurately assess the situation and provide the guidance and the clout needed to enable change. I challenge you today to look at your own projects objectively and decide what level of control they are under.

Have you been involved in a product development or product launch program that seemed to be behind schedule before it even started?

Has the manager of the project tried to plan the program to the week or the day to prove that it can/will be done?

Prussian general General Herman Von Moltke the Elder stated:

"No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy."

1. Plan Backwards, then Verify Forward

No, this is not some odd quote from “Kung Fu” the TV show with David Carradine.

You have to know when you are finished with the project in terms of:

  • time

  • performance

  • budget

  • sales

By planning backwards, you start with the end in mind. Not just product performance, but in all aspects including:

  • tooling and other production preparation

  • test development

  • quality inspection

  • customs

  • cost

  • production forecasts to satisfy sales forecasts

Verifying forward is another way of tracking progress on to the plan. Verify daily that the departments’ plans are being followed and deadline met.

2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Communicate up, down and sideways:

  • up the chain of command to assure them of progress and communicate issues requiring their assistance

  • down the chain of command information that impacts the project

  • to your peers so they know how their departments are supporting your project

If you think you are annoying them with "over-communication", then you are at the minimum threshold of communication. If they tell you you are annoying them, acknowledge it, change them from the “To:” line to the “CC:” line and don’t and back-off a bit. They can ignore your report.

3. Use a new product development plan template

I like templates and checklists, both paper and electronic. They are a surrogate for my memory. Put another way, they “remember” for me. The list of categories of tasks in a project varies little from project to project. Details differ because of the design, innovation, and target market of the new product, but the steps and pitfalls are very similar.

With all of the tasks and projects that product directors and managers have to do, we need all of the help possible to keep the projects moving and organized. Start today with your current projects and record what you are working on. Refer and add to this list daily. At the end of the project you will have a starting point for your next one.

If you want some ideas to dramatically improve your product strategy and commercialization , let’s talk.


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©2021 by Doug Ringer. All Rights Reserved.

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