5 Tips for What to Do When Outside Forces Rule Your Projects

Projects struggle for many reasons. Sometimes requirements are not complete resulting in rework and missed deadlines and a missed budget. Sometimes vendors fail to deliver on time as we’ve seen a lot during the pandemic. Materials just aren’t available or are months behind on delivery. Sometimes prices, such as gas, building materials, and everything in between, make it impossible to move forward without giving away your entire profit margin.

Are these things within your control as a project manager? Often times they are not. You can go with another vendor or delay the project a month to see what happens, but you will still find yourself off schedule and kicking the dirt wondering what you could have done differently to avoid all of these headaches.

Since these are currently real-life scenarios playing out in our daily lives and on our projects, let’s examine what we can do to remain within budget, on schedule, and in control…or as close to it as possible.

1. Document great requirements

Requirements are the lifeblood of the project. Good, complex, and complete requirements are absolutely necessary to keep the project on track, avoid re-work, and test against at user acceptance testing (UAT) time – that real last critical customer acceptance before solution go-live. UAT is when things really fall apart if requirements are not in line with what the delivery team put together.

2. Access risks more than usual

Too many times we shelve real risk planning to move forward with the design and development of the solution. We often think that’s where the real work begins. Our customers often push for it for budgetary reasons or to expedite the project. The truth is, skipping the proper amount of risk planning is one of the worst ways to start the project and when dangerous risks are realized with no avoidance or mitigation plans in place, you’ll understand the issue better. 

3. Document everything

For purpose of requirements, status, keeping everyone on the same page, and everything in between… during times of issues or out of control problems it is increasingly important to keep good notes. The project manager really needs to document everything. Not so much to cover themselves in case of wrongdoing. It’s more to know what’s happening, be able to report on it to senior management, and be accountable to the team, the customer, and all stakeholders. Remember, we are talking about problems that are basically out of your control as a project lead. Any notes you take, any status you document…will only help you assess the situation better, gain help from management, and possibly add to lessons learned to avoid similar situations on future projects.

Better yet, get your organization on a single source of truth platform, like Proggio, where all project data is stored in one place and can easily be accessible for future reference.

4. Look for change order opportunities

This is a tricky one. Looking for change order opportunities doesn’t really mean “try to get every last dime out of the project customer.” So you must approach it cautiously. You do want to try to add to revenue to increase the revenue/budget/profitability health of the project. But at the same time, you want to be looking for needs from your customer and helping them and not appearing to grab every dime you can as the ship goes down, so to speak. Look and listen for these potential needs as a way to appear to be adding value to the project customer by proactively sensing their needs and offering to fill those gaps. And that is what you are really doing so do it confidently, but cautiously.

5. Lean on senior management

Finally, lean on senior management. They are there for a reason. Yes, you are accountable to them even on projects that are out of control for reasons you can’t really control. But they are also there to help. They can get you more budget if that will help. They can get you new resources if that is the need. They can try to help you make the right decisions in the face of those risks we mentioned earlier and they can knock down roadblocks along the way.


The bottom line is we can’t control everything. Despite the fact, we have to try to prevent our projects from facing grave danger in the first place. But once things are taken out of hand we can be prepared to maintain the leadership our project team needs. Your company, stakeholders, teams, and customers are depending on it.