The disengaged project customer. Your project customer likely has more to do than just manage or oversee the project you are leading for them. If they become uninvolved or unavailable most or all the time, you will soon find that to be a problem. Our clients are needed to help make decisions, provide information and approve work at key points in the project. And if you are finding that they aren't attending key meetings and are not responding to calls and emails then you need to address that with the customer. The project that progresses forward without the input need from the client is likely to miss the mark in the end when rolled out to the waiting customer user base because information and requirements clarifications were not happening when needed on the project. Stop the communication gap as quickly as possible when you notice this happening....lack of customer involvement is a problem, not a luxury.
Resources not available when planned. The same holds true for your project team members. If you start to experience team members being unavailable when needed for the tasks you've assigned to them, then it's likely a sign that they are over committed and your project is butting heads with another project they are assigned to. Possibly even a higher priority or more complex project than yours. If that is the case, then the problem is only going to grow...it isn't going to get better or resolve itself. You must act to get that resource back on board, or work with the other project manager to share the resource more efficiently, or replace the resource. In all three cases, time is not on your side so you need to act quickly before it creates a major issue with the project, the timeline, the budget or the customer.
Outstanding invoices. Unpaid invoices can be just an oversight on the part of your project customer...it happens. But it can also be a sign that your project customer is not satisfied with a deliverable or project performance. Either way, it needs addressed to ensure there isn't a deeper client satisfaction issue. If you are finding that one or more invoices are outstanding for an unusual amount of time, pick up the phone and address it with the client. And if there are performance concerns that have not been discussed previously that are causing this issue, then have an honest discussion with the client. You want to do everything you can to regain that customer confidence that may be escaping...before it's too late.
The % over budget is increasing every week, not leveling or decreasing. This one is huge. I always feel and have experienced that as long as you bring the project in within about 10% either way of the original planned budget, then it will be considered a success or at least acceptable. And a budget, watched closely will not get too far out of hand. But those budget numbers that are creeping higher and higher each week are telling you there is a bleed somewhere you need to find it. Usually, it's in project hours being lazily charged to your project or work being performed that may be beyond the scope of your project. In either case, it needs to be addressed. In the former you need to counsel your project team members on the proper and accurate accounting of time and how it can hurt the project budget by inaccurately charging their time. In the latter, it can mean one or more team members are going outside the bounds of their assigned tasks and either doing more than is required or they are not fully understanding the project requirements and what their assigned tasks are about. In either instance, re-education or a requirements refresher is likely in order.
Summary / call for input
The are just general signs to look for and they don't always mean trouble. But they can mean there is a major issue brewing and will always need further investigation. Be aware of warning signs and act before there is a big problem, not after one becomes obvious.
What are your key signs? Do you agree with these? What challenges have you faced on your projects and how did you respond to those warning signs?