A question was asked, “At what point is a project most likely to experience a breakdown – and how do you as a project manager prevent that from happening?”

It becomes quite clear that there is a problem when the customer refuses to pay at the end of the project. However, the reality is that more than likely the project experienced a breakdown at the very beginning of the effort and that there were “hints” of an issue throughout the life of the project.

More than likely, the Project Manager and the customer never agreed on the definition of a successful project.  As the project progressed, subtle hints of a problem probably emerged.  But people ignored the hints as they may not have wanted to be perceived as being a roadblock or apathy set in or they thought the issues were of minor concern and would somehow self-correct and go away.  Soon major issues started to occur. The project team began to experience cost overruns or they missed critical deadlines or they failed to meet quality standards and expectations.  At this juncture, the Project Leader needs to recognize that they have a troubled project and need to take decisive corrective action to get the project back on track.

To avoid this scenario, the Project Leader should follow the following steps:

  • Create a picture of success so that you can gain alignment and concurrence on what success looks like.
  • During the project, actively look for issues that threaten the picture of success.
  • Do not ignore small problems. Actively and decisively address the small problems so that they do not become a big problem.
  • Develop checkpoints throughout the project so that you can check in with the customer to make sure that issues and concerns are addressed in a proactive manner.
  • Leave nothing to chance and always have a plan!