Know the signs

I was recently asked: “What makes a successful Project Manager” and it took me by surprise.  Of course, there is the obvious “Delivering successful projects” but a more subtle one is about knowing the signs when something is going right/wrong. During this blog, I want to give you a few ‘signs’ that you might want to consider and see if they apply to your projects/ organisations.

1. Lack of involvement/ general disinterest about the project/ activities

One of the biggest indications or signs that the Project may be headed for trouble is where team members or specific stakeholders are not attending meetings, contributing to agreed tasks or providing sign off for their responsibilities. I’ve seen this happen in several ways and more often than not, it’s a sign of poor change management within the project. General disinterest could present itself as not contributing during team meetings or being late/ not attending the meetings at all.

If you do find team members/stakeholders that you feel are starting to become disinterested, then I suggest discussing this with them privately. Try to understand if this is the case and then start working out why they’re disengaged and then go from there to resolve their issues or escalate accordingly.

2. Rumour mill / stories

I’ve previously seen a sign where there could have been issues in the project when the rumour mill within the team/company starts churning. Rumours about the changes in the project, changes in leadership, issues within the project being escalated higher than they actually are. When the rumour mill starts, I try to listen as this can be a goo indication of where the ‘concerns’ are within an organisation and then I try to identify where the rumour came from to be able to tackle the issue directly.

As a Consultant, I often see certain types of companies (normally with very rigid hierarchies) becoming victim to the rumour mill and this can seriously damage the reputation of a project and ability to perform their role.

3.Gut instinct

One great instinct that I think is very underrated is about Gut Instinct. It’s a feeling that ‘something isn’t quite right there’. It is one skill that comes with experience and it’s very difficult to learn as a Junior Project Manager. Having gut instincts and knowing where issues could arise can help solve issues before occur. To try and build your gut instinct, I like to read through lesson learned reports and discuss with other Project Managers about the issues that they’ve seen in their project and what could be done to resolve it.

4.Meetings suddenly become difficult

I’ve heard this one from colleagues that have worked in projects with very complex stakeholders. During general meetings, there can be a lot of disagreements or ‘non’ issues appearing that come across as major issues that need to be investigated/resolved. An example from a colleagues project was during their regular status meeting, there was a 30 minute discussion on why a certain action was taken that had already been decided upon and was already known for several weeks.

5.The Metrics indicate that something is going wrong

This is perhaps one of the most ‘obvious’ signs. If you have project metrics that indicate that your velocity is not as high as expected or alternatively that your team is not performing as well as it should be (based upon the history of the project metrics).

I try to do a regular (monthly) review of the metrics and I also use this to verify if my gut instinct or other signs are correct/accurate. Metrics are very black and white though, so they may not show the entire story.

6.Management having ‘secret’ meetings/longer meetings

One indication of a wider issue within your project s organisation could be management taking longer meetings/ holding secret meetings where the outcomes are not discussed. This ‘hidden’ element can lead to #2 (rumour mill running wild). This may not be a strong indications for issues within your project but it could indicate problems in the wider company.


In general I like to try and keep an open mind when it comes to all of my projects and give everything the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. I do like to look at the possibilities and opportunities that we can have to learn about projects and potential signs that we may not have seen yet.

What signs do you use in your projects to know when something might be going wrong?


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