Corporate management should look for the following signs which are characteristic of a software development project headed for meltdown. Remember that most software projects fail because of poor project management, not because of technical issues.
Stagnation is the first tell-tale sign that a project is in trouble. This month’s status report sounds just like last month’s. If you keep hearing the same status report over and over again, then little progress is being made. Cut through the weasel words and ask for a demonstration of the current working capabilities.
Denial is characterized by controlling project information so that upper management is unaware of any problems until it is too late - basically a strategy to stonewall upper management. Project schedules are fudged; irrelevant information is offered to confuse the issue; project management hides behind technical details and jargon.
Project management blames anything and anyone outside the project - even upper management can be indirectly blamed. Blame is generally placed on any number of undefendable items: lack of support from other parts of the organization, lack of training, unforeseen (and largely unexplained) technical problems, etc.
Trade-offs are a recovery strategy that generally comes late in the game. To meet the schedule, project management starts trading one requirement against another (postpone this in order to complete that). The development effort shifts from trying to develop a full-featured product to one with only limited capabilities.
Project management abdicates all control, standards, procedures, etc. to get the project done. The developers are given license to use whatever means they choose to complete on schedule. This total collapse of project management is the final meltdown. Final meltdown frequently includes unreasonable demands on the development staff – 6 day work weeks, 12 hour days, no vacations or holidays. Software quality and staff moral suffer accordingly. At this point, prayer is your only hope!