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How to Know When A BA Project is Failing & What to Do About It

So often, we focus our articles on how to do everything right; how to drive success in your business analysis project. Obviously, this is important information and insight. We all want to know how to approach projects in a way that promotes success and mitigates risk and failure. But real life isn’t perfect. People make mistakes, things get overlooked, and projects can fail. 

We often learn more from our mistakes and failures than from our successes. Unfortunately, not all stakeholders or organizations see things with that kind of silver lining, so it’s good for you to know some of the early signs of project failure (so you can tackle them asap), the signs of late-stage project failure, and what you can do to mitigate or fix them. 

In this article, I’ll highlight some of the most common warning signs that your initiative isn’t doing so well, and offer suggestions to help you realign it so it’s on a path to a successful outcome. 

Early-Stage Warning Signs of Project Failure

Sometimes, if you keep your eyes peeled and spot some of these common early-stage warning signs, you can tackle these issues and turn things around before they get too bad! Here are some of the early warning signs you want to be on the lookout for:

Unclear Objectives & GoalsGraphic showing goals

A project without clear objectives and milestones is destined to fail. In business analysis projects, the objectives must be well-defined, measurable, and achievable. If the goals that your team is working toward are ambiguous or unclear, it could lead to misunderstandings and misalignment among them and among stakeholders.

Inadequate Planning

Proper planning is essential to the success of any project. Without planning ahead, project teams may miss critical milestones, budgets may be exceeded, and resources may be wasted. Inadequate planning is a big red flag signaling the future failure of a business analysis project.

Poor Team Communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone of good teamwork and project success. Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings, lack of alignment, and delays in project delivery. If teams fail to communicate effectively, it could lead to the project’s failure.

Scope Creep

Scope creep occurs when requirements expand beyond the original scope of work. This can lead to delays, increased costs, and misalignment or a loss of focus on the project’s objectives. Setting clear boundaries on what is considered in scope for the solution is critical, lest the project get too large and unmovable.

Low Stakeholder Buy-in

If you’re feeling like you’re getting the cold shoulder from the people you’d most like to be interested in your initiative, you may be experiencing low stakeholder buy-in. This (very frustrating) sign of trouble can occur when stakeholders don’t care or don’t want to be involved in the initiative you’re working on. They may even seem combative and push against it. Some clear signs of this include stakeholders never being available to talk or meet, a lack of access for you or your team to systems or important reports, and pushback in meetings and discussions. 

Unrealistic Deadlines

When you’re setting deadlines and milestones for your project, make sure they’re SMART. If the deadlines you’re setting are unrealistic and are constantly being missed, it’s going to be impossible to keep your project on track. The cascade of issues that unrealistic deadlines can cause is endless, and will inevitably lead to confusion and low morale among your team. 

Late-Stage Warning Signs of Project Failure

If you haven’t caught some of those early-stage warning signs that your project is on the road to failure, there are some late-stage warning signs that are usually a bit easier to spot. Unfortunately, projects that are experiencing these red flags are difficult (though not impossible) to remedy. Regardless, it’s still good to understand what happened so you can avoid it in the future. 

Missed Deadlines
A man writing on white paper

If your team experienced any of those early-stage warning signs, but didn’t act quickly enough to fix the root cause of the problem, you’ll likely miss some or all of your project deadlines. If project teams fail to deliver on their commitments, it can cause delays, frustration, and a loss of confidence in the team’s ability to deliver in the future.

Surpassing Budget

Surpassing your budget is another late-stage warning sign of a failing business analysis project. If the project’s costs exceed the approved budget, it can lead to a loss of resources, delays, and ultimately project failure. Surpassing your budget can also lead to skepticism from stakeholders. If they’ve already bought into a project expecting to invest a certain amount of money, and if you continue to ask for more, they’re going to question your expertise and will often want additional reporting or details explaining why, which takes time, thus causing the overage to be even greater.

Stakeholder Dissatisfaction

Stakeholders are critical to the success of any project. If stakeholders are dissatisfied or skeptical about the project’s progress or results, it could lead to a loss of trust and support, ultimately ending in project failure.

Low-Quality Deliverables

Quality deliverables are what everyone is expecting when investing time, resources, and money into an initiative. When outputs don’t match expectations, it is a big letdown and can lead to a loss of confidence in the team’s ability to deliver a valuable solution in the future.

Steps to Fix or Salvage a Failing BA Project

If you’re keen and able to, there are several steps you can take to fix a BA project that’s in trouble. Depending on the warning signs that you observe occurring, some of these may help get your project back on track:

Realign Project Objectives

If the project’s objectives are unclear or ambiguous, it’s essential to realign them with stakeholder expectations. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page, and the project team is working towards a shared goal.

Review and Refine the Project Plan

If inadequate planning is the cause of project failure, it’s essential to take a step back to review and refine the project plan. This will help ensure that critical milestones are identified, budgets are set, and resources are allocated effectively.

Improve Communication

If poor communication is the cause of project failure, it’s essential to improve communication among project teams and stakeholders. This can be achieved by establishing clear lines of communication, holding regular meetings, and providing regular project updates.

Increase Stakeholder Engagement

If you notice that stakeholders are losing confidence or becoming increasingly skeptical about your and your team’s ability to deliver a valuable solution, try offering them more insight into the progress you’re making with the project and get their insight, listen to their feedback. By listening to stakeholders and engaging them in how the solution is shaped, you will increase their involvement and positivity towards the project, while also strengthening their confidence in you and your team will grow. 

Manage Scope Creep

If your initiative is experiencing scope creep, it’s essential to manage it effectively. This can be achieved by establishing clear requirements, defining project boundaries, and managing changes effectively. If additional ideas and suggestions creep in, take note of them so they’re recorded, but ensure that stakeholders and others know that they will be explored in a future phase of the project. 

Perform a Root Cause Analysis

To salvage a failing business analysis project, it’s essential to perform a root cause analysis. This involves identifying the underlying causes of the project’s failure and warning signs and developing a plan to address them.

Reassess Stakeholder Needs

If you find that stakeholder dissatisfaction is becoming the norm, it’s essential to reassess their needs and expectations. This can be achieved by engaging with stakeholders, collecting feedback, and developing a plan to address their concerns. For many, they may just need a reminder of the value that the proposed solution is bringing. Others may have thought of new ideas for the solution (hello again, scope creep!) and may be satisfied knowing their ideas were heard and will be taken into account in future project phases. 

Evaluate Deliverables

If low-quality deliverables are creating skepticism in the project and potentially contributing to a lack of interest (and, ultimately, its failure), it’s essential to evaluate them and identify areas for improvement. This can be achieved by establishing clear quality standards with your team, performing regular quality checks, and implementing quality control processes.

Reallocate Resources
A tea cup next to a laptop screen showing faces of people in an online meeting

If resource constraints are the cause of project failure, it’s essential to reallocate resources effectively. This can be achieved by identifying critical areas of the project and prioritizing the resources you have accordingly. If new or more resources are needed, consider introducing them – but do so strategically and ensure the need for them is valid. Remember: everything comes with a cost! Another option is for you to take a close look at your plan and see if there’s a way to reduce the scope of the solution and still achieve the desired end results.

Seek External Guidance

We all need a helping hand or advice sometimes – that’s how we learn! If project teams are unable to salvage a failing business analysis project, it’s important to recognize when you need to seek external help. This can include hiring consultants or experts who can provide guidance and support in turning the project around. Maybe all you need is advice. Think about a mentor or colleague you look up to or have worked with in the past. Most people are happy to provide advice! 

It’s never fun coming to the realization that a project you’re part of is showing signs of or is on the road to failure. But acknowledging and accepting that it’s happening is the first step in turning things around and recovering, or salvaging what you can. If you recognize these warning signs early enough and take immediate action, you can sometimes even reduce the impact to nothing.

To mitigate risks and keep your project on track, consider brushing up on your BA skills and knowledge with our Business Analysis Process Series. In this series, I walk you through the three major phases of a project (from problem identification to solution implementation and evaluation) in detailed and easy-to-grasp lectures. 

And remember, if you find yourself in this situation, we’re human and we all make mistakes. It can happen to the best of us. Learn from it, and allow yourself to move on. 

Wishing you luck and success in all of your future projects! 

– Written by Jeremy Aschenbrenner, The BA Guide

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