Project in trouble? Do you even know?

Often a project sponsor or project manager can preside knowingly over a failing project, but equally they may be blissfully unaware based on formal reporting. Sometimes a ‘spider sense’ that picks up on the informal communication can be very useful…… and knowing who to call when you have doubts is essential

Working in the post-trade environment is tough – no room for error, continuous cost cutting, and so much to do. Making change happen is even harder – getting acceptance of an idea, getting management on board, and finally securing funding can all seem like mountains of effort. So you finally get to project initiation, and with all this behind you, it should be easy… Nope! It just gets harder…

Most of you will have experienced a project ‘gone wrong’, and it becomes increasingly obvious to all involved the longer it takes for someone to declare that significant remedial action is required. This tends to be later rather than sooner as it is in the collective (and individual!) interest not to be perceived as ‘admitting failure’. The real trick is to set up execution approaches that identify and resolve potential de-railing issues.

However, if you’re mid-flight and starting to get a sense not all is right, what signs should you be looking for to support your suspicions? Here are a few…

“The dates keep slipping” – this is the big one and a major warning that things are badly wrong. It reflects any number of underlying issues, and is a lagging indicator so makes it very likely that overall delivery will be late… Probably exponentially unless radical action is taken

“Other departments are just not participating” – again a big red danger signal, hopefully evident early enough to be addressed. Key issues to look for here are lack of buy-in (not consulted during approval phases), lack of resources (commitment not agreed), and lack of prompt action (most likely lack of proper engagement and representation at management level, or poor cross-department planning and co-ordination).

“We don’t seem to be getting the benefits we were promised” – particularly bad news, as most of the spend will already have been made at this point. Standard operating procedure here is to declare some sort of vague victory and for sponsors to move on to the ‘next challenge’. Correct action is to learn for the next time that a full understanding of where the project will get you to, and to be realistic about what that means, is the only way to avoid this.

“I warned you about this” – we all hate it when the “department expert” shares their pearls of wisdom. You are professional and know what you are doing! What’s a hundred times worse is when their prophecies turn out to be true. If only you’d listened! Not an easy one this as sometimes this is just general change-resistance, however do not underestimate the value of knowledge gained building the current state across the organisation. The trick is to be able to assess the value of the input, and deal with it appropriately thereafter.

These are just some items to think about. Being honest about reality is a major plus point – most organisations have a gift for deflecting or suppressing bad news. Of course all organisations are different and a change approach that works for one may be a disaster for another. Ascendant Strategy have vast experience of projects that have gone well, and remediating projects that are going badly. If you are sensing the signs, they can help to validate the health of a project, and provide advice and support to get a project back on track.

Ascendant Strategy bring pragmatism and straight-talking to your project.


Our 8 Project Perspectives (8P2) gives you and your stakeholders an honest assessment of what’s going on (and what’s not…)


Click here to get our help…… and join our happy customers:

“When Ascendant Strategy came on board, they told us exactly where and why our project was stalling. They followed this up by establishing a strong project framework, advising on resourcing, and developing our staff with the benefit of their extensive operational knowledge. Ascendant Strategy is a thoroughly professional and highly experienced firm”



Written by Alastair Rutherford, MD Ascendant Strategy