Ghosts and ghouls are bad omens on Halloween, but clues portending doom are different in development. Chip Pedersen, Director of Client Services, shared these 11 Clues Your Project Might be in Trouble at Twin Cities Startup Week:

Clue # 1 – Unclear Terminology

Create a glossary! It’s crucial that everyone on the project has the same definition of these terms.

  • MVP- Minimum Viable Product or Most Viable Product?
  • Vertical Slice
  • Alpha, Beta
  • Code Complete
  • Code Freeze
  • Golden Master

Clue # 2 – No One Source of Truth

It is important to continue to gather information and pay attention to customer pains as you find ways to align with the decision makers as their partner in solving them. Build stories as you gain traction and share them through your direct sales and marketing efforts. Your goal is to provide utility and value to your customer or target audience.

Clue # 3 – Sound of Silence

The sound of silence is very scary. Zero emails, Slack messages, or movement in JIRA should terrify you! You should over communicate. Communication is key for a successful relationship and shipping a product.

Clue # 4 – Unanswered Questions

Not making a decision, is still making a decision. It will delay your ability to move forward, and those questions are going to build up and haunt you in the long run. They’re not really questions- they’re roadblocks. Make sure you set deadlines for decisions and set consequences if these are not answered.

Clue # 5 – Not Completing Sprint Tasks

A sprint is a short, time-boxed period when a scrum team works to complete a set amount of work. Sprints are at the very heart of scrum and agile methodologies, and getting sprints right will help your agile team ship better software with fewer headaches. A sprint is not a To-Do list, It’s a Get It Done list. These unfinished tasks are going to stack up and you are going to be late. Plan out as many sprints as you can- you will start out slow, get faster, and gain Velocity.

Back to Clue 3- Communicate! When planning a sprint ask the team- Is your sprint too big? Do you have all you need to accomplish this sprint Are the people capable of doing the work? Daily standups are the best way to check on sprint status on a daily basis.

Clue # 6 – Changes Mid-sprint

Stay the course! Interrupting your sprint or allowing changes is opening your project up for trouble. You’ll end up wasting work, upsetting the team, and losing velocity. Instead, ask yourself: why do you need to change the sprint? Should you push for the change into a future sprint? Plan with the team when it can fit in and what is being removed from future sprint.

Clue # 7 – Dependencies

Dependencies include APIs, new programming language, new technology, and hardware/new hardware. Too many dependencies could drastically impact your schedule.

The solution? Monitor progression on all your dependencies. Hold the person, client, publisher accountable for these dependencies. Use a tracking sheet to visibility show status of dependencies- a little public shaming never hurt anyone! Protect yourselves- call out Dependencies in status reports and meeting notes

Clue # 8 – Feature Creep

We went into depth on why Feature Creep should give you the creeps in our previous blog article. You need to monitor your features. In the MVP stage, less is more. And remember- your best weapon is a change request form. Determine the “Cost” impact on the project- schedule, money, and people. Make a tradeoff: identify what features you are going to remove for this new feature. And remember: Many times the feature addition will not justify the “Cost” if you work it out

Clue # 9 – Crunch

“Crunch” refers to long periods of long work- like 70-100 hour weeks, 7 days a week for 6-9 months. Crunch is a killer! Crunch happens because of poor planning, missed sprints, and feature creep. The stakes are high- crunch can lead to burnout, mistakes, loss of team members, and even loss of future employees.

Clue # 10 – Death By a 1000 Cuts

It’s not one bug that gets you- it’s a bunch of little ones. You should be doing QA as part of your sprint process. Mix bug-fixing into sprints to clean things up. Projects working right up to the deadline are faced with more bugs. Instead, plan your last several couple sprints to focus is on bugs and polish: code freeze, triage all bug fix, and only work on must-fix items.

Clue # 11 – Picking the wrong partner

Choosing the right partner is very important to the success of your project. If you recognize some of the first 10 clues you might have the wrong partner. Do your due diligence- Do they understand what you are try to accomplish? Have they completed similar work? And do they have a reputation of completing projects on time?

Ask for samples of work and to speak with current or former clients. Do watch out for bait and switch- places may sell you the A Team, but the C team does the work. That’s why you should get team member names in the contract.

Sometimes the wrong partner might be you. Take a moment to reflect on whether you recognize these problems in your own workflow.

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