10 Signs Your Software Project Is at Risk That You Won’t See on a Status Report

Cassie Wallace - 21/07/2020

Here at Kiandra, we’re fighting the fake news.

Not that kind of fake news, the fake news that a project is on track and everything is awesome.

The reality is, software projects are complex, comprising moving parts, different objectives, personalities and skillsets. So, it’s inevitable something will go wrong along the way. But how can we keep a handle on everything when we’re moving at pace? 

The answer: keep an eye on the intangible factors as well as the tangible. We’ve delivered hundreds of software projects over the past 24 years — and yes some of them haven’t gone to plan. But they have taught us to watch out for signs that something’s not right, and here are our top ten.

1. Someone (anyone) can't articulate the benefits of the project   

This is a doozy, like a certain meandering, orange-tinged leader’s press conferences, if someone sponsoring or within the project team can’t articulate a clear message on why you’re delivering the project, then something’s up. All software projects should have clear measurable objectives, and if yours doesn’t then it might be time to stop and think. 

2. The sponsor can't (or won’t) confirm the priority of time, scope, budget or quality

Project uncertainty can cascade into impacts across the board and invariably a decision must be made about which levers to pull to fix things. We recommend you decide at the beginning of the project what your priority is: time, scope, budget or quality — because you can’t have them all. 

3. Risks are not being captured, discussed or taken seriously

This is the ultimate fake news. No matter what anyone says, there are always risks on a software project. They may be big, they may be small, but they’re always there. If your project team aren’t talking about them then something is seriously wrong. 

4. The tech lead doesn’t communicate early 

With so many dependencies and complexities, communication is essential. And while we do run agile, often when one thing falls, so do the other dominos. So, early, transparent, regular and clear communication from the tech crew is vital to avoid risks becoming issues. Our tip: assume nobody knows anything and don’t be afraid to point things out. 

5. Someone asks for overtime

There are a lot of reasons why someone in a project team seeks overtime — a piece of work could be more technically challenging than expected, changes in scope add more work or hold-ups from dependencies slow things down. Overtime isn’t always a bad thing, but make sure you understand why it’s happening because none of these should ever be out of the blue. 

6. A key user group has not been consulted

Here’s a scenario: you do your research and kick-off a project before realising a key user group hasn’t been identified or consulted. We’ve seen it before and it’s not uncommon where a client suddenly remembers the team in their remote office also use the application being built or renovated. While this can be remediated, it could be a sign the initial research wasn’t thorough enough and there could be more unknowns. 

7. You notice the product owner hasn’t logged into Jira in over a week

Information flow is critical on fast moving software projects, and all team members should keep their Jira- house in order so everyone knows where each user story and task is at. This can become a little bit like a house of cards — if the product owner isn’t keeping up to date, then things will fall apart from the top. Not only will critical information be missing or delayed, but you’ll spend too much time in stand-ups catching up and not being proactive on what’s coming next. 

8. Absenteeism and presenteeism is causing delays

When you start to notice reduced productivity due to unplanned absences, it’s potentially a sign of burnout and disengagement. This can also happen while the team are sitting at their workstation — known as presenteeism. 

9. You’re being told there are no bugs

Fact: there are always bugs. No development project in the history of the world has ever produced the perfect application. If your team are telling you there are no bugs to report through the project, then there are likely to be deficiencies in UAT, reporting or your QA process. 

10. More time is spent on project administration than building actual software

When you notice that key resources are being pulled away from delivering the outcome and more time is spent on chasing data, rejigging reports and justifying past mistakes, it's often a sign of diminished trust or blameshifting.

Like a government’s approval rating, there are both qualitative and quantitative signs something is going wrong. Kiandra’s Project Managers can help guide your project to success and help your organisation navigate some of the common pitfalls on projects. We’ve seen it happen so we’re here to help you steer clear.  

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