Projects get started for a variety of reasons but good intentions are usually not enough to justify investment. In spite of defining or enforcing intake criteria, projects continue to be launched which should never have left the drydock.
What are some of the warning signs to look out for?
No one appears to be able to answer the question Why?
I’m not asking for a detailed scope definition or “to be” process map. All I am looking for is someone who is able to paint the picture as to how the world will be better if this project gets completed. Without this, the likelihood of significant effort being invested in a snipe hunt increases. Sometimes the initial answer to why we are doing a project is superficial – in such cases, you could use 5 Whys to try to identify the real reason. If it turns out that it’s just to build someone’s empire or stroke someone’s ego, back away slowly…
Too many throats to choke
While it might take a whole village to raise a (project) child, diffused accountability translates to weak governance which results in ineffective decision making. If there isn’t a clear understanding before the project starts as to where the buck stops, keep looking.
Too many external dependencies
Every dependency can be a source of risk. The more a project will rely on all the stars aligning perfectly, the less likely it is to succeed. If there isn’t an easy way to reduce the number of external dependencies, is it still worth proceeding?
There’s too much going on
If the sponsor, key stakeholders or core team members are distracted with multiple other bright, shiny objects, how much are they likely to focus on your project, and what will be the quality of the decisions and deliverables produced? Unless you are confident that this project can bubble up to the top of their priorities (and stay there), maybe it’s better to wait until they can focus.
It doesn’t align with the company’s risk appetite
Organizational risk appetites can evolve, but that shouldn’t be because someone has decided to bet the farm on a “sure thing”. Too big to fail just means we haven’t been hit by a big enough asteroid yet!
There’s no risk in delay
Is it important but not urgent? What’s the worst that could happen to the company if the project was delayed by a year? If there isn’t a compelling reason to launch the project now, there might be some other more urgent initiatives which could use the resources.
Have we tried (and failed) before?
Sometimes organizations learn from past stumbles and are able to succeed on future attempts – those are the exception, not the rule. Without fundamental changes in underlying conditions, capabilities and expectations, there’s a strong likelihood of repeat failure.
If your project breaks one or more of these rules, how confident are you that you will avoid realizing the risks posed?