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Signs of a Poorly Planned Project: How to Recognize and Address Them


Have you ever found yourself in these all-too-familiar and unpleasant scenarios?

  • Your manager informs you that the project is out of budget without any prior warning while you and your team are still fully engaged in the work.
  • Despite your and your colleagues’ relentless efforts, the lack of resources becomes a significant hindrance that remains unresolved.
  • Your team puts forth their best efforts, but the stakeholders remain dissatisfied, and it seems their satisfaction is out of reach no matter what you do.
  • Even if others introduce a project, you still find yourself feeling confused, and unsure of the project’s goals, direction, or how to proceed even the first step.

If you have experienced any of the above situations, there’s no need to panic. Rest assured, it’s not your fault, and you’re not going crazy. These are actually very common consequences of poorly planned projects.

Recognize poorly planned projects

Proper project planning is undeniably critical for project success. Unfortunately, in the real world, not all projects receive the level of planning they deserve. This can happen due to various reasons, but regardless of the cause, everyone involved in the project, including you and me, will suffer bitter consequences.

Hence, I’d like to share some tips to help you identify poorly planned projects. If you feel confident in your ability to improve the situation, take action without hesitation. It’s crucial to recognize when a project may be headed down the wrong path and take steps to address the issues before they escalate.

However, if you find the situation beyond your control, don’t hesitate to say NO from the very beginning. Your time and efforts are valuable, and it’s crucial to invest them wisely in well-conceived projects.

Clear Objectives

When encountering a new project, the foremost question to ponder is:

Does the project have clear objectives?

In essence, clear objectives encompass well-defined, specific, and unambiguous statements that outline the project’s intended accomplishments.

Objectives play a crucial role in guiding the project team, stakeholders, and all involved parties, providing a shared understanding of the project’s purpose and expected outcomes.

Clarity, in this context, entails objectives that are measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, adhering to the SMART framework.

Clear Objectives Example

  • Increase sales revenue by 15% in the next fiscal year by launching a new product line.
  • Reduce customer wait time in the support center by 20% within two months by implementing process improvements.

Not Clear Objectives Example

  • Improve customer satisfaction
  • Reduce churn rate
  • Implement AI into projects

If your manager or supervisor presents an ambiguous project introduction or set unrealistic expectations, it is imperative to raise the red flag in mind.

Detailed Scope

Detailed Scope refers to a comprehensive and specific description of all the work and deliverables that need to be completed to achieve the project’s objectives. It is a breakdown of the project’s overall scope into smaller, manageable components, tasks, and deliverables.

It provides clarity on what needs to be done, who will do it, and how it will be accomplished. It helps in preventing scope creep (unauthorized changes to project scope) by clearly defining what is included and excluded from the project.

The project scope should be well-documented, including what is included and excluded. The scope defines the boundaries of the project and helps prevent scope creep, which is the uncontrolled expansion of project deliverables beyond the original plan.

What you should find in a project scope?

  1. Project Objectives: Clearly state the purpose and objectives of the project. This section should answer the question of why the project is being undertaken and what it aims to achieve.
  2. Deliverables: List all the tangible outputs or results the project will produce. Deliverables should be specific and measurable, such as reports, products, services, or completed milestones.
  3. Scope Statement: Provide a high-level summary of the project scope in a concise statement. This helps stakeholders quickly understand the project’s boundaries and objectives.
  4. Project Boundaries: Define what is included in the project and, equally important, what is not included. This prevents misunderstandings and helps manage stakeholder expectations.
  5. Constraints: Identify any limitations, restrictions, or factors that may restrict the project’s execution. These could include budget constraints, resource limitations, regulatory requirements, or technological limitations.
  6. Assumptions: Document any assumptions made during project planning, as they may impact decision-making and risk management. Assumptions should be validated as the project progresses.
  7. Dependencies: Identify any external factors or tasks that the project relies on. Understanding dependencies helps in coordinating activities and managing potential risks.
  8. Acceptance Criteria: Define the criteria that must be met for the project to be considered successful. This helps in determining when the project is complete and ready for handover.
  9. Constraints: Identify any limitations, restrictions, or factors that may restrict the project’s execution. These could include budget constraints, resource limitations, regulatory requirements, or technological limitations.
  10. Project Exclusions: Explicitly state any work or deliverables that are specifically not part of the project scope. This helps in avoiding scope creep and clarifying what will not be done.
  11. Milestones and Deliverable Schedule: Provide a timeline with key milestones and the expected delivery schedule for each major deliverable.
  12. Risk Considerations: Identify potential risks that could affect the project scope and describe how they will be managed or mitigated.
  13. Change Control Procedures: Outline how changes to the project scope will be managed and approved. This helps maintain control over changes and prevents unauthorized alterations.

Let’s embrace a more pragmatic approach to the realities of the business world. Companies, departments, teams, and management styles can vary significantly. It’s not uncommon for a project to be a work-in-progress, evolving and maturing as it develops.

However, it’s essential to be vigilant and recognize when there are too many critical gaps in your project, warranting a red flag. Such situations often arise when the project sponsor or manager lacks the requisite management experience or fails to consider crucial factors. In either case, this should raise concerns and indicate potential issues ahead.

By acknowledging the complexities and differences in various organizational setups, we can better navigate the challenges that arise during project execution. Being observant and proactive in identifying shortcomings will allow us to address them early on, fostering more successful outcomes.

Remember, it’s not about expecting perfection from the outset but rather being mindful and responsive to potential pitfalls along the way. This way, we can adapt and make necessary improvements, increasing our chances of accomplishing project objectives effectively.