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Signs Your Project Has Run Away & What to Do About It

You’re working with a technology partner to build your new app, but it’s become unmanageable. Is there a way to wrangle it and get back on track?

When projects become too big, things get confusing—and fast. Building an app is a big endeavor, so most companies try to stick it out with their original development partner, crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. But your best bet is to get ahead of problems before they become too big. Learn how to recognize the signs that your project is running wild and chase it back down by balancing the right partner with an organized product development process.

3 signs your project has run wild

Your software project is going smoothly … until it isn’t. Anything could send your project off like a runaway train, derailing the end product, squashing team morale, and even leading to employee churn. If you observe any of these three issues, don’t be surprised if that train jumps the tracks:

Shifting scope

If the scope of your project keeps changing, it could be running off the rails. Do you have a large group of stakeholders directly involved in project planning? Today, they want the software to do X, but tomorrow they want it to do X and Y.

Maybe there are even too many developers on the project, which can slow progress down instead of speeding it up. “Too many cooks in the kitchen” isn’t just a cliché—it’s a real problem. If your development partner’s go-to solution is more people, it should give you pause.

When you have several decision makers in the room—from your side or your partner’s— their priorities, knowledge, and onboarding needs challenge the overall direction of the project. Any resulting changes to the original scope impact the project’s budget and timeline.

Poor planning

Launching and iterating on a software project is challenging, so if you don’t know where you’re headed, you’re bound to get lost. You need to focus throughout the project, working closely with your development partner. Software projects are destined for trouble when:

  • Your goals don’t align with business objectives.
  • Your project has unforeseen or unrealistic requirements.

Poor communication

Projects can easily run away if your team and the developer aren’t communicating effectively.

Without regular status updates from your partner, you waste time and resources on much bigger and more time-consuming meetings and initiatives to get back on track. Simply having a project plan isn’t enough. Your development partner must collaborate with you so you can provide input and feedback on any changes to development needs and project requirements.

What to expect from the right technology partner

Not every dart hits the bullseye. If things don’t pan out with your first technology partner, taking your project elsewhere is OK. Joining forces with the right technology partner makes a difference. Get your project back on track with a new partner that can support you with product development processes and best practices, including:


You need to set the stage for success with your new partner. Take the time to learn how they collaborate on projects and ask yourself, “Will this work for me?” You can easily develop communication strategies that work for both sides. In doing so, you’ll be able to spot gaps, allowing you to allocate resources and develop processes for this and any future projects.


“We’ve always done it this way.” “It worked for one client, so it’ll work for you, too.” Any developer worth their salt knows that every project is different. As such, your partner should be able to quickly adapt to any changes in your project or business relationship.

Goals and benchmarks

The project management process is about taking things from ideation to completion. How do you get there? By pursuing incremental, measurable goals. Your new technology partner will help you identify the best strategy and plan your product roadmap for success. Clear goals give teams a yardstick to see their progress and maintain a delivery schedule.


You wouldn’t want your employer to put up a wall, so why would you accept it from a development partner? In a transparent partnership, everyone gets a seat at the table to learn about—and even contribute to—key project elements, such as strategy and design. As many as 30 percent of projects fail because of poor communication. But when all parties understand expectations and can contribute, you reduce or prevent future revisions.

Well-defined user experience

Your company wants to build an app that allows users to do X, but your partner brings their eye for detail to the table. That’s important because they marry functionality with great design to drive digital innovation. The right partner will develop a human-centered, easy-to-use solution to user problems.

Shared vision

Have you ever seen a picture that has two interpretations? Some people see a tree! Others see a woman! But which is right? Technically both, but it’s all about perspective, and you want a partner who shares yours. By approaching your project with shared goals and a like-minded approach, you set yourself up for positive collaboration and success. Along these lines, it helps to keep a record of written principles to guide the partnership. This way, if you disagree as the project progresses, it’s easier to realign.

How to streamline for a project comeback

Is there a quick way to save a runaway app project? The truth is, it takes a lot of work. However, you can achieve quick wins by following a few simple steps:

1. Establish processes and protocols

If your project has gotten out of hand, it may be time to realign everyone involved through shared practices. An expert development partner can help by looking at the foundation and ensuring that the required work is clear, stakeholders are part of the process, and teams understand expectations. Your new processes may include work breakdowns and sprint planning, making it easier to prioritize and collaborate.

2. Prioritize

Development projects are big, hairy, and complicated because it takes hard work to get technology to do exactly what you want. To keep your project chugging along seamlessly, prioritize time-sensitive deadlines. That might mean simply adhering to a schedule to tackle the most important items, but you may also have to learn to say “no” when someone wants to chase a squirrel (i.e., a new idea that isn’t vital to the project). Instead, say “yes” to tasks that are essential to the end result.

3. Break things into smaller tasks

Which resonates more: “Add user authentication” or “Add login/logout feature,” “Add forgot password feature,” and “Add Google authentication”? Bigger or more time-intensive tasks are daunting, and your team is more likely to become overwhelmed if you structure projects this way. On top of that, with such a long-view approach, it’s harder to estimate resources and time. Instead, break the project into smaller units and develop a cadence—like sprints—to make things more manageable.

Corral your project with the right partner

Projects can get out of hand quickly, especially if you take them on in-house and your team isn’t prepared. If your scope gets out of focus, plans go haywire, or communication breaks down, an app build or software project can quickly run away from you.

Rein your project back in with help from the right partner! Detroit Labs follows collaborative project management processes, helping us build apps that adhere to best practices and achieve your end goals.

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