5 Signs Your Project is Going Bad

We don’t need to tell you the importance of a project staying on track. There are a multitude of different scenarios that can hold up or even derail what seems like the most solid of projects, and it can not only cost you time, but a large amount of money to boot. It’s crucial to look out for those warning signs, as the earlier a potential issue is caught, the more chance you have of minimising the impact. We’re in the business of solutions, so we’ve put together the top five signs your project may be in trouble, and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again…

SIGN #1 – You sped through the initial design phase.

It all seems to be on track, the initial design phase took no time at all, and the project is now well on it’s way. The problem with this, however, is that what you’ve saved in time now, will more than likely come back to haunt you in later phases of the project. We’ve said it before, and will no doubt say it again; measure twice, cut once. Look at the proportion of time given to the design phase compared to the overall timeframe of the project, what does it look like? If it’s only a fraction of time in comparison, you may be heading for disaster. Good design takes time, and the value of accurate and detailed design specifications and drawings is too often overlooked.

When rushed, the design thought process cannot effectively address the project requirements while accounting for all potential risks, and the resulting design documentation can lack the detail required for a smooth project delivery. Detailed design documentation is the heart and soul of a project, and is crucial to ensure successful execution. ‘Thin Slice’ testing and validation of key risk areas is the other crucial half of the design process. It’s easy for designers to leave the detail for the development and construction team, but this results in a missed opportunity to find and fix issues at the CHEAP end of the project.

Using an example for an Automation project, do your specifications describe detailed process sequences that cater for all scenarios? Are there contingencies in place to cover unexpected behaviour or outcomes? Have you detailed and tested interfaces to other systems? The sales guys will promise you the world, but does his product actually do the job?

The reality is project components change, and if your systems don’t allow for these deviations, what would normally be a simple fix is now a large scale problem. All components must talk to each other. If your system runs in silos, it’s never going to produce a cohesive end result.

Take the time to complete a detailed design effectively and start how you want to finish. You would never build on an unstable foundation, so why don’t you begin your next project by investing in the proper ground work.

SIGN #2 – You’ve lost sight of your objectives.

It’s not always easy to do, but it’s important to keep sight of your objectives and not to steer off course. When problems occur, go back to these goalposts to ensure you’re finding long-term, objective, focused answers. Don’t fall victim to using quick-fix, band aid solutions to issues. It will only result in further problems, and more than likely, detrimental results, costings both time and money.

Verification & Validation (V&V) is an important process to ensure a project’s success and help you keep sight of the objectives. The V&V process allows you to check whether the system is meeting specifications and will achieve its intended purpose. It’s through this process that you can go back and reassess your developed system, resolving problems before they surface.

Ask the questions “Does X actually achieve its objectives without any gaps?” (verification) and “Was X actually what we should have built?” (validation). You’ll know from your answers whether or not your project is heading in the right direction. Many projects start off with the requirement for a kettle, but end up with a toaster. Both heat things, but they produce entirely different results!

SIGN #3 – There is a sea of errors during FAT.

Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) is a critical part of any successful project, and if you’ve paid attention and dedicated the resources from the beginning, it should be a relatively painless process. If it’s not, and you’ve found yourself swimming in a sea of errors, this should be taken as a neon billboard sign that your project is going bad.

If you’re here, it’s generally because of one or a combination of the following:

  • You’ve overlooked Sign # 1 and Sign # 2 above.
    • Not enough time and effort invested in design.
    • You’ve lost sight of your objectives.
  • You have a sloppy development and construction team.

FAT is a great opportunity to assess how things are going and revisit design if necessary to correct errors and issues prior to moving forward. Sometimes the answer is to hit the pause button and regroup prior to moving forward. If there are many issues uncovered here, it’s likely there will be even be more issues in later project phases. And guess what, they are going to cost you a lot more to fix later.

It’s worth noting that the flip side can also occur. FAT is conducted and passes without an error! Really? Many times FAT’s are far too superficial and do not really put the system through its paces. In these cases, you often end up paying for it during commissioning. It’s important to ensure your FAT is digging deep enough, and covering key risk areas to give you an overall level of confidence in the developed system.

SIGN #4 – Too many unplanned variations.

Minor scope variations naturally occur during projects at times. Sometimes, you need to adjust your direction from the path you initially set out on, and there are many valid reasons why this may be the case. That said, having too many variations can be a big problem, and is often a sign of a project heading for disaster.

The obvious issue with too many variations is the cost factor – both in time and money, but it can also highlight a lack of planning and foresight in the design phase of the project.

Doing it right from the start is the best way to avoid numerous variations. With the right initial processes in place, a healthy focus on design, and vigorous testing, few, if any, variations should actually occur. Remember, these variations cost time and money, both of which are over and above that which you planned to spend. Sadly, if you’re only waking up at this point in your project, much of the damage is already done.

SIGN #5 – Your project timeline has blown way out.

This one is a bit of a no-brainer. You’re on the train, your stop was three stations ago, and it’s time to get off.

If you’re running behind the planned project timeline, it’s best to jump on this as soon as you can, because if you don’t, you’re going to have a bad time. Time has a funny habit of getting away from us, and with projects this effect is often compounded because of the complexity of tasks and the number of people involved. When a project runs over time, not only do you have to ensure the remainder of the project is executed perfectly, you also need to make back the time you’ve lost. Guess how often that happens? Once the domino effect has begun, it’s very difficult to correct.

Too often we get called in to rescue projects that are completely out of control. The easiest way to ensure success is to plan and execute well from the start. Here are some simple steps you can follow on your next project to give yourself the best chance of success:

  1. Get the right team in place from the start. Ensure you have the expertise you need.
  2. Clearly define your objectives, link them to project requirements and ensure accountability.
  3. Invest more in the design phase of your project.
  4. Test thoroughly prior to commissioning.
  5. Verify and validate your system throughout.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the five signs your project may be going bad, and address any issues immediately. No project is perfect, but this way you are more likely to achieve the result you are after without any major hiccups.

Coengineer is Australia’s leading team of automation specialists. Our dynamic team of engineers and project managers are experts at driving bottom line business objectives through automation. If you’ve got an automation challenge, or are looking for a long-term partner to support you, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

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