7 Risks of Big Projects

Big tasks can be difficult to execute, but what about big projects? Maybe it’s an initiative that extends for several years, or an effort that encompasses far more stakeholders and functional groups than usual. As a PM, you’re probably eager to stretch your skills and gain new expertise, but sometimes big projects come along that are more than challenging—they’re worrying.

big project

If you’re facing an uncommonly large initiative, consider some of the risks that could come along with it and see if you share any of these concerns.

1 – People will lose interest. Projects that cover many months or even years run the risk of dropping stakeholders along the way. The business environment could shift between the beginning of the project and the time you mark it as complete. What are the consequences of losing much-needed support if your sponsors’ attention is pulled away to newer projects or impactful changes in the marketplace?

2 – Key team members will depart. It’s always a risk when you have high performers in your group—they’re ripe for promotion internally or poaching from a competitor. Your project plan counts on having certain skills and expertise available in-house, but what will happen to your big initiative if that knowledge walks out the door?

3 – Your funding will dry up. Any time a project’s timeline crosses from one fiscal year to the next, you need to think about the possibility that your approved budget won’t automatically follow you. You may need to ask for it again, requiring a new round of bids and estimates. Will your project survive going through the justification and approval process again?

4 – Your project will never end. Once the leadership team becomes accustomed to your project being on their radar, it becomes too easy to fall into the scope creep trap. High-level influencers want to expand a bit on an achievable, or add another small goal to one area of the project. If you aren’t able to push back on this uncontrolled growth, will you end up stuck in an initiative that turns into an ongoing function?

5 – Your enthusiasm will wane. As the person primarily responsible for keeping people excited about change and rallying the troops when the going gets tough, it’s valid to wonder if you have the stamina to make it through yourself. Is your team self-motivated enough to continue on when your energy runs out?

6 – The time element of your project will become meaningless. As weeks turn into months, team members might become less stringent about their time management practices. Deadlines may begin to falter—minor ones at first, but eventually your project could become dangerously behind schedule. Will you be able to keep the project on track even when there’s still so much time ahead of you to work with?

7 – Costs will increase. There are a couple of legitimate reasons to worry about cost creep. The first is simple inflation and market conditions. Will the quotes you received and the estimates you created back when the project was still in the planning phases remain accurate further into the future? In addition, just as you worry about losing control of the time element of a big project, your team members may not be as firm about sticking to the original budget when there will be plenty of opportunities to “pay back” overages, borrowing from one line item to shore up another. Can your budget withstand the test of time?

This exercise shouldn’t be seen as alarmist. Only after you acknowledge the potential liabilities of big projects can you begin to develop strategies to address them.

PMAlliance offers project management consulting, training and portfolio management services.

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