When Do You Know The Project Is Off Track? 

02 Feb 2022
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your project is off track

When Do You Know The Project Is Off Track? – Intuitively, you will know when your project is struggling when you notice delays when it’s obvious that you cannot need deliverables and similar scenarios. 

But, to prevent disaster or scope creep, it is important to spot the early signs that your project is off track. 

In our experience in multiple software development projects, we learned a few signs of the wrong direction. The following article is explaining early indicators of an unsuccessful project.

No Clear Requirements

In order to make requirements confirmed and validated in fewer cycles, they should be clear and easy to understand in all project phases. The thing that Agile teams often forget, is to have written requirements in all project phases. Everyone should understand what they are supposed to do in every project stage, not just in the beginning. Unclear requirements are one of the first hints telling to let you know that the project is off track.

Another point of clarity is to include customers’ perspectives in feature planning. Customers’ feedback in every stage of the development will provide a better understanding of the value that outcome should bring. Also, including the customer decreases the chances for scope creep caused by the client-side. 

One more thing that makes requirements confusing is bad habits in documenting requirements that many members of the development team have. 

When your requirements start to look messy, too comprehensive and a lot of them stop being updated – it’s time for the alarm. Also, if you get too many questions from stakeholders about the requirements, that means your team members don’t understand them. 

How to make requirements clear again? 

For both requirements and user stories, you can follow the user story ultimate guide. Helpful for both is to include the SMART principle and INVEST principle. To make them more clear, you should include the definition of done and acceptance criteria. To fix your previous requirements, make sure you:

  • Use active present tense 
  • Don’t combine requirements 
  • Use tools that have synchronized updates in all projects data

There are not many tools that keep all project data, with both documentation and charts synchronized. Luckily, JadeALM provides this feature in order to help you to maintain your requirements relevantly. You can also see the complete history of requirements and find missing pieces of information. 

Too Many Meetings 

Too many meetings require dragging the focus from the things you are doing. More than three meetings per day could be a sign to let you know that the project is off track. To explain, studies show that constantly switching attention between tasks is proven to cause a decrease in productivity. Other than that, too many meetings in project management mean something is not clear. 

To stop having too many meetings, you should find out why you have them in the first place.  One of the common reasons is to invite anyone to the meeting. If you think they might be related to the topic of the meeting, you invite them. 

The same goes for the meetings you are not the host of. You might be thinking it is polite to attend them and improve your team skills. But instead, you are just listening – not helping anyone, nor yourself. 

how do you know the project is off track?
Source: Pinterest

Another possible reason to have too many meetings is that you don’t know how to use email. 😛 In other words, some meetings could be emails or notifications instead. 

Whatever the reason is, too many meetings is wasting your employee’s time. 

How to stop having too many meetings? 

There are some things you can do to have fewer meetings at work. 

  1. Optimize project management tool and communication over them. 

Try to use asynchronous communication instead of synchronous when possible. That means sending messages over channels or tools that don’t keep the pressure of answering immediately. Also, use free project management software that make communication easy and clear, as JadeALM does. 

  1. Practice to have agenda for every meeting. 

Require agendas before each meeting and if there is none, feel free to refuse the meeting. To know whether the meeting is relevant for you, you should know in advance what will the meeting be about. Other than that, the agenda makes you think about the topics from the meeting before and enables you to be more prepared. Therefore, the meetings themselves are more successful and faster.

  1. Schedule shorter meetings.
  2. Implement a weekly zero-meetings day. 

Chose one day when there will be no meetings. That will enable your team members to have the rest of the meetings and lower the pressure. 

Huge Backlog 

A backlog is a list of work that the development team has to do. Every project has a backlog, but when the backlog gets too big, it’s time for the alarm.

Backlog is increasing if you don’t remove outdated user stories and requirements. Also, if you change information and add new user stories into previous features, it increases the backlog. More reasons to increase it is to break down user stories into smaller items and reorder the priority. 

With every one of these changes comes reassigning tasks and user stories. You also need to explain every one of these changes and new estimates. 

huge product backlog, project off track


How to manage a huge backlog? 

Just like with everything else, with backlog too – organization is half of the work. In terms of features and tasks, it means the hierarchical order. The first thing how to decrease your backlog is to organize their hierarchy. 

Keep the backlog clean

Multi-functional teams have backlogs from more disciplines. Not to get lost in all of these tasks that wait, make sure you use the tool that provides a big picture. For example, JadeALM has a WBS chart inside of the tool that keeps your hierarchy clear and synchronized with all changes that you make in the editor. 

This makes it easier for all departments and disciplines to navigate through the project data and find what they need faster. 

Keep the backlog up to date 

Any tool can help you organize the tasks and then make a change. But, JadeALM makes it simple and easy. Using JadeALM, you can change requirements and they are going to be automatically synchronized in all the other parts of the project. 

That saves you a lot of manual work of updating information. This feature also allows everyone to be on the same page with feature updates, bugs, issues, client insights, and other initiatives. 

Increase sprint velocity

The bigger the backlog, the more things to do in the future. To decrease backlog by solving out tasks in time, make sure your sprint velocity is high. In other words, try to do more quality work in one unit of time. 

Bad Estimates 

Bad estimates lead to higher costs, worse profitability, and a bigger backlog. There are a lot of reasons what you can estimate something wrongly. 

The first of them is that we tend to be too optimistic while estimating. There are a lot of studies showing that humans are overconfident when it comes to forecasting. We overestimate the time and resources needed for the tasks. 

Another result can be an artificially low estimate in order to get it approved. As a result that, there is no plan with sufficient time and effort which later leads to cost overruns. 

How to make better estimates?

  1. Double the initial estimate. 

Because we are always optimistic about forecasting, effort, and time, plan with extra time. That way you will create extra time for testing and potential changes.

  1. Don’t mix time and effort. 

Just because you could invest a lot of effort doing something, doest mean you will be done sooner. There is always hidden work waiting for you. 😛 

  1. Divide and rule the policy.

The bigger the project, then it is harder to make a good estimation. That is why you should divide the project into smaller digestible milestones. One of the ways to do it is to use JadeALMs WBS that automatically divides your requirements from the editor into a diagrammatic work breakdown structure. That way you can rely your estimation on specific parts of the project.

Rework 

Sometimes repetition is not a mother of knowledge. In project management, it can easily be a mother of delays. Too much rework is a sign to make you know that the project is off track.

Rework in project management is the unnecessary effort of redoing a process or activity that was incorrectly implemented in the first. The cause of rework could be errors, failures, had estimations, changes in project scope, poor communication, and coordination. When you notice you are doing slightly too much of a rework, you know something is wrong. 

How to prevent rework in project management? 

Before assigning tasks to team members, make sure your assignments are skilled for these tasks. If they are not, it is likely that someone else would have to do the job and you will get more rework. Always have in mind to ask if everything is clear and ask if anyone needs training.

When you have all dependencies and steps well organized and clear, there are fewer probabilities for rework. JadeALM especially focuses on good hierarchical order of the requirements you know in every moment what team member is working on what. It ensures there are no more team members working on the same item.

How to get the project back on track? 

If you have recognized your projects in more than 2 scenarios, we are sorry. At this point, the morale of team members is probably lower than in the beginning. As a leader with good interpersonal and team skills, you need to get your project back on track and focus on recovery. 

That might mean getting some additional disciplines or even team members. You can re-evaluate roles and responsibilities on the project and set the new ones. A new evaluation of capabilities and scope will also be helpful. 

Have in mind that even scope creep has advantages and you can take benefits from it. Eventually, collect learned lessons about how to know when the project is off track and adjust to the new terms. 

And – let the games begin again. 🙂 

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