The other day, as I was driving along the M1 in traffic, I noticed that the gantry lights were flashing a large red X over the inside lane. This indicated that the lane was closed because of an accident. Most cars moved over to another lane when it was safe.
Three lorries, however, ignored the warning signs, raced past the traffic jams and tried to enter the queue.
The massive red X gantry signs are a warning sign. It’s not that Simon Cowell and David Walliams don’t like your act. They are not there to warn you of danger ahead but they are there for all road users to be safe.
The same applies to IT Projects.
This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the five IT Project warning signs I have seen in the past year. I would love to hear about your IT Project warning signs and whether you heeded them.
1 – Scope Creep
Scope creep is not a single stakeholder request that causes project damage. It is a series of seemingly insignificant requests that slowly eat away at your timeframe or your budget.
Project managers are generally open-minded people who love to say “yes”. Your downfall can be a positive attitude. This was the case for a project that I was asked to review last year.
It was a simple request from a key stakeholder that was included in the schedule. It took an hour or so, diverted a team member from their current task, and cost a few hundred dollars from the contingency budget. But that’s what it was there for.
This was fine except that the diverted team member didn’t complete his task on time, causing delays in the next dependent task. These things happen, and you can catch up over the course of a project’s lifecycle. The problem was that these little requests kept coming in, and eventually the project was over budget and behind schedule.
This is a warning sign from your sponsor or stakeholders that you think it’s okay to alter the agreed project plan. It is, but it is rarely without consequences. Therefore, it should never be signed off without being completely clear about the consequences.
My friend joked that he thought his sponsor thought he was Kanye Juste. Every conversation seemed to start with “Can I just… do this”, or “Can you just… do that”.
He makes sure that any scope shift is agreed upon before it is implemented. This could include negotiating additional budget or delaying delivery. However, he will always work to his advantage by requesting a scope change!
2 – Weak Project Management
You, as a CIO, should be alert for signs that your project manager may be weak.
Sometimes it’s not weakness per se. It could be a lack in authority or a cultural issue that causes project teams to feel incapable of saying no to change requests. This is exactly what happened in the above case. The PM had clearly set his case and there was no reason for the project to fail. But, the project sponsor was a very intimidating senior executive and the young PM couldn’t refuse.
It takes courage to say “no”, but keep in mind that every time you say “yes”, you could be saying “no!” to another thing.
Give your team the power to say no to or challenge a scope-change request, or at least to set up a system that allows a project team to get advice.
3 – Compliance
Sometimes I can be stubborn, or so I’m told. Personally, I stubbornly refuse to accept.

Do not ignore the IT Project Warning Signs