How to recognize project warning signs early


Brad Egeland

November 9, 2015

When your health takes a turn for the worst, what do you do? You go to the doctor, right? Well, not everyone does, but you should…and most do. It depends on the warning signs, I guess.

Medical scares are real…don’t ignore them

My oldest daughter is pregnant with her first child and going through a difficult pregnancy. She has very similar symptoms to what happened with my wife (her mother) on her first pregnancy. My wife was admitted to the hospital, spent three weeks there on IV’s, got the meds and fluids she needed to keep some foods down and gain back some of the extreme weight she had lost and she eventually concluded the pregnancy with a very healthy baby that happens to be our oldest son and biggest supporter of my alma mater Iowa Hawkeyes back in Iowa City (Go Hawks!). My daughter finally agreed to head to the hospital and now after about a week in there she’s almost ready to come home…and she’s feeling quite a bit better.

A good friend and colleague recently had a medical scare – sort of a mini-stroke / warning stroke that usually doesn’t cause any injury as long as you recognize it and get treatment fast. He did – thanks to his very observant and fast acting wife – and now his likelihood of an actual followup stroke is greatly reduced because he got treatment quickly.

Why am I saying this? Because doctors are important! No, that’s not why…but they are. So don’t be stupid!

How this all relates to project management

Actually, the point I’m trying to make is this…we get warning signs all the time in our lives – personally and professionally…it’s what we do with them that can determine how badly or much they affect us and what happens next. Your brakes squeak…replace them. If you don’t, you’ll also be replacing your rotators and it will cost four times as much. The meat in your fridge smells bad…don’t use it. If you do, you’ll be…well…you’ll be real sorry, trust me.

On our projects that we manage, there are warning signs as well. Project financials that start to go south, first 5 percent over budget, then 12 percent, then 27 percent after a couple more months, are very real. If you ignore the early warning signs, you may find yourself down the road too far on your project to take any meaningful corrective action.

How about a vendor that you’re using on the project to deliver equipment over several months? The first delivery is two days late. The next one is five days late. The third one may be on time, but the fourth one is three weeks late and you’re expecting several more deliveries from this vendor. If you don’t take action – and quickly – you’re going to find yourself with major delays or possibly even a situation where you can no longer get any deliveries from this vendor due to whatever issues they may be going through on their side of the project.

These are big warning signs and they are only two examples out of potentially hundreds I could come up with. Yes, so many things can go wrong, but we still need to be aware, plan, and be ready to act or react sooner rather than later. How do we do this? Well, it’s basically risks that are lingering out there that are actually coming to fruition and threatening the well-being of our projects, correct? So the basis of this is good risk planning. So many times we procrastinate, minimize, or even outright avoid risk planning. Bad choice. While we can’t plan for all risks we can plan for major ones based on our experiences, our teams joint experiences, and our project customer’s experiences and business environment. All of these play a major part in our risk planning and management process. We should, at a minimum:

  • Brainstorm with the team on major potential risks
  • Bullet point some response steps to each potential risk
  • Identify an estimated likelihood that the risk will occur
  • Assess the potential damage the risk could cause
  • Swear to revisit this risk list at least monthly (preferably weekly) on the project

Being proactive is of huge benefit to our health and to our projects. And at the very least we often get some sort of warning sign that tells us something is different, something is amiss. Only a fool overlooks those warning signs as nothing to be alarmed about. Check it out, the worst thing that could happen is actually the best thing, you could be wrong and you just go back to the status quo.

Risk management…risk planning. Those dirty words we hate to hear. It takes time and money. But really, it can be done in 30 minutes with the right focus. Thirty minutes of risk discussion may help you and your team avoid a $50,000 oops later down the road on the project.

How about our readers? How many of you are good about risk planning? How many of you have missed a warning sign on your project, lived to tell about it, and care to share it with the rest of us? Let’s share our risk and issue experiences and discuss.


This article was written by Brad Egeland from CIO and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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