Technology Project Anti-Patterns: Signs Your Project is in Trouble
Best Practice’s Enemy
Our industry, the IT industry, focuses on delivering technology solutions for people. As consultants, we depend on successful communication patterns to build solutions for our clients. These are often called best practices. On the other side of this coin are anti-patterns, which are indicators that your project is in trouble.
The root cause of these problems is often hard to determine, but the symptoms are all around us. Anti-patterns usually start with subtle changes in client communications.
A communication breakdown with the client may become more evident when you start to see these anti-patterns:
- You are no longer are included, or perceived, as an integral part of the decision-making process, you are ‘informed’ about key project decisions.
- Communication becomes more formal.
- The client directs the analytical techniques and/or methods of your work.
- Project sponsors drastically change their level of involvement. This could include an increase, such as taking over the facilitation of JAD sessions, or a decrease, like becoming a ghost.
- Key client staff no longer look you in the eye.
- The amount of resistance changes from key staff or organizational units, this could be an increase or decrease.
- The client no longer addresses you by name, instead uses “Vendor”, or “Analyst #2”. The “new” release of the project schedule includes generic names.
- The communication about the project’s progress (with measurement and metrics) is unstable – you cannot agree on what “done” looks like for work products.
- The more astute consultants around you are asking to be rotated to another project.
- Your key card or login at the client site stops working.
The side-effect of these communication problems, especially on a fixed-price contract, is that they take effort and time away from solving the business problem. Instead, time is spent renegotiating communication patterns that are not part of the software solution.
Stamping out Anti-Patterns
As the old saying goes, you can’t fix a problem until you acknowledge there is a problem. Ask for help as soon as you see these or any other anti-patterns. I suggest asking others on your project team if they notice the shift. I also recommend you bring into the loop your executive management that may not be on the ground at the project. These resources will have practiced skills and experience to be able to provide you with success patterns and strategies to counter the anti-patterns.
The root cause may be that the consulting team has lost the ability to communicate, and with it they’ve also lost the an amount of influence. If you see the anti-patterns above, or if you or your team has lost confidence that you will be able to provide a solution to the client’s problem, it is time to step back and reassess the solution, the client, and the communication. Once influence is lost, regaining your foothold on the path to success requires skills and experience. When relying on “best practice” patterns and looking out for anti-pattern symptoms, the keyword is practice. It is also important to know that you can ask for help.