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How to Identify Early Warning Signs of Project Failure

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Imagine this: You’ve recently started working on a marketing project and you’ve got that bigshot client with a big budget. Now, you want the best people working on it. You ask your already busy team members to help you out with this one. But as they start working on this marketing project dedicatedly, you notice other clients complaining about you missing out on one thing after the other.

What do you think happened here?

It’s okay to get your best team members to work on a heavy-duty project. But you totally skipped dividing their existing work to other team members or hiring new resources who could manage existing projects in their absence. Having a resource crunch is one of the early signs of a failing project. If you end up missing out on such signs, then your projects are likely to become one of that 70% of projects that are prone to failure.

But there’s more to failing signs than we can think about. If you miss them out, you’re likely to witness a ripple effect where one thing after another will get affected because you missed those signs.

If you’ve been having trouble identifying these specific indicators of project failure, then we’re here to help you out. In this blog, we aim to discover early warning signs of project failure that may hamper the progress or success of your projects later on.


9 Early Warning Signs of Project Failure

Simply exploring each sign for a project failure isn’t enough these days and we know that. That’s why we’ve also focused on how you need to spot these indicators and what kind of a solution should you implement to avoid their after-effects later on. Let’s get started!

1. Inactive Stakeholders

How important is it for you to get inputs from your project stakeholders at regular intervals?

A stakeholder can be an occasional contributor or a complete project sponsor. Irrespective of their different levels of duties, all stakeholders hold the power to impact the objectives of a project positively or negatively. That’s why it is important to get constant contributions for ideas and changes to help your team stay on the right track and deliver an outcome that’s agreed by all your stakeholders. 

But if your stakeholders remain inactive for quite some time, then you’re likely to deliver an outcome that’ll be different from the original goal of the project.

How to Spot if Your Stakeholders are Inactive?

Your stakeholders can be inactive in sharing project updates for various reasons. 

  • You’ve either failed to identify the key stakeholders who should be approached on a regular basis 
  • They’ve lost interest in the progress as they don’t see the project progressing as per its original goal

How to Act Upon this Early Sign of a Project Failure?

First of all, you need to understand that identifying and classifying all the stakeholders on the basis of their responsibilities is important to separate key stakeholders in the first place. On the basis of their duties, you can involve each stakeholder in the decision-making process and finalize the outcome of the project.

Second, you can keep all your stakeholders in the loop of all the tasks and subtasks of a project by adding them as a user in your project management system. 

Tools like ProProfs Project allow you to add stakeholders as users so they can see how the project is progressing and drop their suggestions if they see discrepancies in the results of a few tasks. This will help you to keep your project on the right track and offer deliverables as discussed during the initiation of the project.

READ  Qual solução de PPM adaptável é a certa para sua organização?

Learn: How to Add Users to ProProfs Project

2. Hiring Inexperienced Resources for Your Project

A bad hiring isn’t just harmful to your project but also for your entire project team. An inexperienced resource for your project team can:

  • Take a lot of time to get accustomed to the existing work process which results in lower productivity
  • Push other members in the team to work harder to make up for the inexperience this new resource may have and complete deliverables as per the deadlines
  • Lower the morale of other team members as they’ll have to make up for the blanks left by the inexperienced resource
  • Affect the quality of project deliverables as team members will have to multitask

How to Spot if You’ve Hired Inexperienced Resources?

If any particular resource is not able to manage to work independently and is bringing down the productivity of the entire team, then you’ve hired an inexperienced resource for your project. You can track their productivity through a project management tool.

With solutions like ProProfs Project, you can track which particular resource is responsible for late deliverables. You can simply create task dependencies. It’ll help you identify which team member is lagging behind and is pulling the progress of the entire project down.

track individual progress

As you can see in the image, other team members cannot begin their tasks without the completion of the first task. That means the one responsible for the first task can stall the progress of the entire project and hamper other team member’s progress too. This way you know whether you’ve hired a good or bad resource for your ongoing projects.

How to Act Upon this Early Sign of a Project Failure?

One, do not assign ongoing projects to your new resources right away. Let them get accustomed to the ongoing processes and how other team members work. Let them tag along with one team member who’s already managed a lot of projects and observe how they go about each task of a project. 

Also, let them manage small tasks and set deadlines so they get accustomed to delivering on time. This training methodology would make the new resource more confident and would help you convert them into a valuable resource.

Two, if you’ve identified a bad resource and even after training they haven’t really made significant progress, then it is advisable to relieve them of their duties. And when you hire a new resource as their replacement, make sure you ask the candidate how they would react in certain situations or what would be their plan of action in the times of emergency. This will help you understand how prompt that resource is in arriving at a solution.

3. Exceeding Project Budget

There is a reason why you get limited resources for your project. The client needs to earn profits. And that’s only possible if they spend less and earn more through the completion of a project. But if the client is spending more and his profits aren’t able to cover up for those expenses, then that’s a sign of project failure.

How to Spot if You’re Exceeding Your Project Budget?

With the help of a good project management software, you can track whether your team and you have exceeded the client’s budget or not.

 track your billable and non-billable hours

With ProProfs Project, you can track your billable and non-billable hours easily. That means you can let your client know through in-depth invoices if you’ve successfully completed the project in the designated time and resources or not. If the billable time estimate is exceeded by the actual time spent, then you’ll know whether you’ve gone overboard with the project’s budget or not.

How to Act Upon this Early Sign of a Project Failure?

This one is simple. The project manager needs to keep an eye on whether the team members are delivering their work on time or not. If they are exceeding the given deadline, then they need to approach them and enquire if they’re facing any bottlenecks while completing their dedicated tasks. 

4. Losing the Ability to Recognize Your Own Project Plan

Did you know that 31% of companies claim a lack of a common vision is the most common reason why projects fail?

Sometimes to do better in the eyes of the clients a lot of managers end up losing the common vision for a project. The direction of the project’s outcome changes as a result and most of the stakeholders aren’t even aware about most of the changes. This too is a specific indicator of project failure that shouldn’t be missed.

How to Spot if You’re Losing Track of Your Project Plan?

With a visual model of your project management software, it is possible to spot if you’re losing track of your project plan or not.

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Gantt Charts to track task dependencies to monitor plan

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You can use project views like Gantt Charts to track task dependencies and understand if your current tasks align with the intent of the original project tasks. This is a good way for you to spot signs of a failing project.

How to Act Upon this Early Sign of a Project Failure?

Once you track your tasks in the view, it’ll be easier for you to align them as per the original deliverables plan. Make sure that as you try to align them as per the plan, you keep your stakeholders in loop of changes. Let them intervene so you get to deliver as per their expectations.

5. Lack of Collaboration Resulting in Missed Task Deadlines

There are times when you need to collaborate across departments to deliver a project within the deadline. For some, that would mean collaborating during multiple meetings. Not only does it end up reducing your time for implementation but also makes you hate the idea of attending anymore meetings. However, this may result in lack of collaboration that leads to missing out on task or project deadlines.

How to Spot if there’s Lack of Collaboration?

Yes, missing out on deadlines is one way to spot if there’s a lack of collaboration. But other than that, you would also notice that the outcome of a task may not align with the original plan of deliverables if there’s lack of collaboration.

Besides leaving an impact on final deliverables, you would also notice that certain tasks aren’t complete because they need inputs from other teams.

How to Act Upon this Early Sign of a Project Failure?

Using project management software, you can aid different departments to collaborate without organizing multiple meetings. Here’s what you have to do.

As you create a project in the tool, assign a single task for completion to more than one person where you know collaboration is needed. 


This is where you can add members from different departments in one task and help them collaborate through comments and file sharing process. Not only as the manager of the project will you get access to how the collaboration is taking place or whether they are frequent at communicating their concerns, but you can also track if they’ve successfully completed their task on time.

6. Addressing the Same Concerns Repeatedly

As a manager, if you have to repeat yourself multiple times, then that’s another early warning sign of project failure.

How to Spot if You’re Addressing the Same Concerns Repeatedly?

The first thing to spot is whether the progress of your project is on track or not. What’s more important while you track the progress of a task is to see what has been discussed in the comments section. Are the team members frequently discussing concerns in the comments section? Do they look unsure of whether they’ve submitted the task in the right format?

And has this doubtful attitude led to delay of the task by one or two days? These signs of underconfident employees helps you understand why they are asking the same questions repeatedly.

How to Act Upon this Early Sign of a Project Failure?

The best solution for this is to create a knowledge repository that your team members can refer to everytime they face the same doubts.

Watch Now: How to Create Help Sites, FAQs, Manuals & Wiki

With a manual for regular reference, you can boost team productivity and deliver tasks on time. Employee manuals will not only help you make knowledge accessible but also improve workforce collaboration. Some of your team members who’ve experienced certain scenarios can collaborate together on FAQ articles and compile them for other team members. These manuals can be updated by taking member feedback on a regular basis.

Read More: Increase Workforce Productivity With Employee Manuals

7. Losing Track of Client Emails in a Stuffed Inbox

The average worker spends 28 percent of their work week on email. That’s like spending more than 11 hours a week!

And if you still miss out on a client’s emails for making changes to the project deliverables, then that’s another sign of a failed project. 

How to Spot if you are Losing Track of Client Emails?

The best way to spot if you’ve been missing out on client emails is to keep in touch with them on a bi-weekly basis to discuss the project progress. You can also collaborate with the client by adding them as users to your project management tool and letting them know through automatic comments notifications how you’re progressing through each task steadily.

How to Act Upon this Early Sign of a Project Failure?

If you still depend on emails to communicate with clients and would like to avoid the email chain mess, then get an email management system onboard.

Managers can add email ids of team members who directly stay in touch with the client to the email management system to track all the conversations at one place. This way you’ll have one platform as a single point of contact for all client communications. You would also get reminders if you miss out even on a single client communication. And maintain a database for all team members involved in a project to refer to the clients communication for reference.

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8. Pulling the Same Members to Other Project Tasks

If you’re asking a few team members to be on multiple projects or tasks, then it’s a clear indicator of resource mismanagement. And this is yet another indicator of project failure.

How to Spot if You’re Using the Same Members on Multiple Tasks?

With a project management software, it’ll be easier to see how many tasks have been assigned to a single resource. 

Tools like ProProfs Project offer a single dashboard view that enables you to see all the tasks in one place and track all the members of a task instantly. Understand that allocating multiple tasks to a single member in the team can also hamper their productivity and can delay their deliverables affecting the final outcome of the project.

How to Act Upon this Early Sign of a Project Failure?

There are times when resource crunch is also a plausible outcome of lack of capital. If that’s the case with you, then you’re probably facing the challenge of managing all the projects with limited resources. In that case, here’s what you can do.

Use the calendar view of your project management software to see:

  • How many projects is a single resource involved in?
  • How close are their deadlines?
  • Do they have anything scheduled next once they complete a particular task?

This will give you an idea of how long you won’t get a particular resource back on one of your projects. Also, do check out the tasks they’re responsible for and on an average how much time do they take to complete that particular task. 

Keeping all these insights in mind, it’ll be easier for you to schedule tasks for another project amidst your limited number of resources. Understand that the idea is to help them complete tasks successfully without feeling burdened by the duties of multiple tasks. Only then will you be able to yield their potential and help them remain productive throughout all the designated tasks.

But if you have the capital, then it is better to hire new project resources. You can also hire them as freelance if the project is huge and their services won’t be needed in the long run.

9. Using all Your Buffer Time

Whenever you develop a project plan, you keep some extra time in mind to make sure you’re delivering the project within the deadline even if you hit bottlenecks. But if you’re out of buffer time, then that’s another sign of a failing project. 

How to Spot if You’re Out of Buffer Time?

Thankfully, with the use of a simple project management software it becomes a lot easier for you to spot if you are out of buffer time. When you create a task, do leave a comment for the task managers about how much time it takes to complete a task on an average. This way they will know that you’re aware of their potential and have set a deadline as per their productivity. If they submit before the deadline, then you can save some buffer time that can be used for quality checks.

But if they end up delivering the task on the day of the deadline, that means you are left with no buffer time.

How to Act Upon this Early Sign of a Project Failure?

With the help of a project management tool, you can set notifications for your team members that will reach them:

  • As the task is assigned to them
  • One or two days before the deadline 
  • On the day of deadline
  • And one day after deadline

With this continuous notification system, it’ll be easier for you to keep them on track and help them deliver before the deadline. Besides continuous notifications, managers can tag team members in the comment section of a particular task and ask the status directly. This too will aid in saving the buffer time that can be used for quality check later on.

Tackle Early Signs of Project Failure for Success

No team likes to see the project they’ve worked on tanking in the first place. However, there are a few signs of a failing project that go unnoticed by a lot of teams and their project managers. And before they know it, the project is close to failing or resulting in capital loss for them and their stakeholders.

That’s why it is important to learn about these early warning signs of project failure to make sure they are rectified when noticed. These warning signs can be inclusive of missing out on client emails, team members asking the same questions repeatedly, exceeding the original project budget and much more. 

Get a project management software like ProProfs Project to make sure you identify these signs the moment they start surfacing. 


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