Meeting target dates and keeping a project on track can be difficult under normal circumstances, but when you throw in factors like an ineffective project manager, stress, and scope creep, things can unravel in a hurry. Here are several articles that can help you maximize your chances for project success.

Strong leaders and realistic deadlines
Nothing is more frustrating than sitting through the weekly status meetings while an indecisive project manager waffles on the project status and shuffles through Microsoft Project files. Keeping a project on track requires a decisive project manager who provides clear (and realistic) deadlines. For a profile of qualities to look for in a new project manager, check out Tom Mochal’s article “Look for leaders when interviewing project managers.”

One aspect of strong leadership is the ability to say “No” to unrealistic project deadlines. In his article, “Unreasonable project estimates: Find the cause, effect a cure,” contributor Kurt Lindberg offers advice on managing business pressure and organizational dysfunction that may coerce project managers to set unattainable project milestones.

Cooperation and commitment to planned objectives contributor Katherine Wright outlines eight common problems that arise when a deadline looms and offers a possible solution for each. For example, the graphic designers could be taking too long to create “the perfect UI.” A simple solution might be to reel them in, start with a basic interface, and add one element at a time. For more advice on managing the minor crises that pop up in stressful times, check out Wright’s article “Watch for signs that your development project is out of balance.”

Resist the call of business drivers to make “small” changes midstream. Scope creep can easily derail on-time projects. If you are going to modify features, use change order forms so you can track the requests and conduct a cost-benefit analysis. While handling more paperwork may not have much appeal, the change order provides a mechanism that allows change requests to be prioritized. For more insights on dealing with scope creep, read “Seven steps for avoiding scope creep” and “Stop scope creep before it starts.”

Trouble up ahead
Some projects are destined to fail. Veteran project management consultant Anthony Mersino identifies seven signs that your project is failing and discusses what you can do to save it or at least land on your feet. Mersino warns against:

  • An ineffective project sponsor. Dealing with an indecisive business driver is worse than dealing with an ineffective project manager. Trying to build an application for someone who doesn’t know what he or she wants or who is unwilling to maneuver corporate politics to get adequate resources is a surefire way to miss deadlines.
  • The lack of accurate status reporting. Reliable status reports provide the foundation for cost-benefit analysis of change requests and allow you to gauge whether the delivery dates are on target. Mersino suggests that when status reports aren’t given, either the project manager doesn’t know they’re needed or the project is so off schedule he or she has stopped reporting on it.

To find out five additional signs that your project is failing and steps you can take when things start going wrong, read Mersino’s articles “Three warning signs that your project is doomed” and “Four more warning signs that your project is doomed.”

How do you keep things on track?

Tell us about projects you made successful. Send us an e-mail with your experiences and suggestions or post a comment below.