Sometimes while working on a project, we get stuck. We run into a problem which we are not able to solve despite of trying for some time (a few days or weeks). Sometimes we don't even know what is causing the problem, and hence we can't find a fix.

This is a state in which all progress in the project is halted (till the problem is solved).

Is there a word/idiom/phrase to describe this state, or to say that you are in such a state?

I'll appreciate appropriate expression(s) in the context of programming projects, as well as those for any kind of project really.

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    You suggested one in your question - ground to a halt – bib Dec 11 '15 at 15:11
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    How about being stuck between a rock and hard place? Meaning – BiscuitBoy Dec 11 '15 at 16:36
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    There is always "hitting a brick wall". – Hot Licks Dec 11 '15 at 19:08
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    Doldrums, you're stuck in the doldrums. – Mitch Dec 12 '15 at 16:20
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    It seems like you are trying to merge two different aspects into one word or phrase: you are perplexed, and the project cannot go forward because of that. So, really, you need to describe your condition, not the condition of the project. It is like saying, "I broke my arm, so my gardening project cannot move forward." You have the problem, the project does not. – user126158 Dec 14 '15 at 1:42

19 Answers 19


You could say, the project stalled/stalled out (or came to a stall or is in a stall)

stall: to come to a standstill AHD

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    But it only conveys that there is no progress, it does not convey that it is because we are stuck in a problem which needs to be solved in order to get out of the situation. Don't you think so? :s – Solace Dec 11 '15 at 14:56
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    @Solace "stall" implies that there's a problem to be solved. – Elian Dec 11 '15 at 15:09
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    @Solace google.fr/… – Elian Dec 11 '15 at 15:11
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    Something can stall for lack of resources (including time / personnel) it does not have to mean that there is an unsolvable problem. – user126158 Dec 11 '15 at 20:38
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    "Bottleneck" suggests something has been slowed or progress constrained, but that progress is still ongoing, just at a suboptimal rate. "Stalled" (also "stalled out") would be more appropriate of the two, I would thing. – Dan Dec 11 '15 at 21:20

If you need to emphasize there's an issue blocking further progress, you could say "the project is blocked":

The resources indicator will display at a glance whether a project is blocked in terms of resource allocation.


UPDATE: You could also say the project is stagnant, which implies there's lack of activity or progress:

stagnation: a situation in which there is no progress or development

(Macmillan Dictionary)

In the context of, say, a software project, stagnation might happen for reasons such as:

  1. lack of interest on the part of the developers
  2. the vagueness of the business case
  3. the project is sidelined due to other other projects taking priority

To fix stagnation issues you need to invigorate the project and breath new life into it.

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    +1 for blocked -1 for stagnant – Jim Dec 11 '15 at 16:47
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    Stagnant usually means that there is no life or flow going on, not that there is a problem to be solved. – user126158 Dec 11 '15 at 20:38
  • @nocomprende I agree "stagnant" is not a very good fit. – A.P. Dec 12 '15 at 7:04
  • +1 for mentioning stagnant, if someone told me; "The project is stagnant", I would understand. – 7caifyi Dec 12 '15 at 19:20
  • @Christopher Thank you for your input. Instead of deleting stagnant, I re-included it again with further clarification. – A.P. Dec 12 '15 at 19:23

Impasse fits this perfectly. MW-Link.

a situation in which no progress seems possible

In American usage, this word is often used to describe negotiations. Once the negotiation process reveals an issue on which both sides are unwilling to compromise, an impasse has been reached. In the legal context, an impasse may be formally declared, indicating that the current round of negotiations has reached a stalemate.

In both cases, the existence of a problem is assumed.

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    But it only conveys that there is no progress, it does not convey that it is because we are stuck in a problem which needs to be solved in order to get out of the situation. :s – Solace Dec 11 '15 at 14:57
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    I have edited the answer in response to your comment. – Eric Hauenstein Dec 11 '15 at 16:30
  • Thank you indeed! I learnt a couple new words from your answer. Actually I was trying to talk about a programming project, so was looking for an expression that could be applied to a programming project. I think this doesn't work there, or does it? – Solace Dec 11 '15 at 17:15
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    It can be applied outside of those situations, however the accepted answer of stalled works even better. – Eric Hauenstein Dec 11 '15 at 19:03

We often use the term roadblocked in tech.

roadblock noun

something that blocks progress or prevents accomplishment of an objective MW


I like spinning [one's] wheels (or for a project spinning its wheels) for situations like this. Picture a car stuck in snow or mud - each time you step on the gas pedal, all you do is cause the wheels to spin... until the underlying problem (lack of traction) is solved. Free Dictionary link.

Another option that is more programming specific would be burning cycles. That is, your project is in the same state as a program which is waiting (in a while loop, for instance) for some condition to change, and it's just using up processor cycles in the interim.

  • How do I use burning cycles in a sentence? 'The project is burning its cycles'? That sounds dubious. =P – Solace Dec 11 '15 at 17:19
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    The usage I typically hear would be something like, "since we have to wait for the database upgrade to be complete before we can proceed, right now the team is just burning cycles." – Greg Dec 14 '15 at 20:24

You can say that your project has come to a standstill:

  • to slow down and finally stop; to stop completely. (Usually refers to something that is progressing, such as work, traffic, negotiations.)

(McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs)

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    But it only conveys that there is no progress, it does not convey that it is because we are stuck in a problem which needs to be solved in order to get out of the situation. :s – Solace Dec 11 '15 at 14:57
  • To come to a standstill implies a problem of some sort. – user66974 Dec 11 '15 at 15:01
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    At the end of the year, work often comes to a standstill as many people are on their year-end break. Still, no big problem to solve. – user126158 Dec 11 '15 at 20:40

Consider limbo as defined by

oxforddictionaries.com :An uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition.

"The project is in limbo, we can do nothing until the problem has been resolved"

  • I would say that limbo is used when a higher level decisionmaker has stopped the project and it is uncertain if it will resume, not when the workers are perplexed. – user126158 Dec 11 '15 at 20:41
  • @nocomprende If it had stopped from above, wouldn't you use blocked? – 7caifyi Dec 12 '15 at 19:32
  • To me, decisionmakers at higher levels decide what projects will be started, and they decide if they need to be killed. So, I don't feel that blocked is appropriate, because it suggests an opposition. Managers don't block their employees, or their projects. It is yes or no. Or for a while: limbo until it later becomes yes or no after being called in to question. Limbo suggests a helplessness while the decision is made elsewhere, not that you don't know what to do. The real issue is the difference between the project's state (no progress), and the state of the workers (perplexed). – user126158 Dec 14 '15 at 1:52

Hitting a wall is a common phrase for not being able to make any more progress on something.

if you hit the wall when you are trying to achieve something, you reach a situation where you cannot make any more progress.

e.g. We've just about hit the wall in terms of what we can do to balance the budget. The enquiry hit a brick wall of banking security.

The Free Dictionary

  • But it does not mean that you don't know how to solve the problem, just that you are not able to. If you could jump 100 feet straight up, a brick wall would not be an obstacle. So what makes it an obstacle? Not lack of knowledge - just jump over it, right? Sorry, not strong enough! Use a helicopter! I don't have one. Blast a hole in it. No dynamite. When programming, the primary obstacle is lack of knowledge, not lack of power. – user126158 Dec 14 '15 at 1:56
  • It's a figure of speech... – ringo Dec 16 '15 at 21:05

You could consider using dead-end which means:

A situation, typically one involving opposing parties, in which no progress can be made

or standstill:

A situation or condition in which there is no movement or activity at all

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

Meanwhile, the Russian rocket program came to a standstill in 1938 as a result of political assassinations, exiles, and imprisonments...

[Space and Astronomy: Decade by Decade]

  • But it only conveys that there is no progress, it does not convey that it is because we are stuck in a problem which needs to be solved in order to get out of the situation. :s – Solace Dec 11 '15 at 14:57
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    @Solace Unfortunately you are right. You could express it by using your own words, "we are stuck in a situation where the problem needs solving". – user140086 Dec 11 '15 at 14:59

A few more terms: "stuck in a rut", "deadlocked", "run aground".

  • How is it that with stuck in the title, this (stuck in a rut) isn't what everyone else thought of and nothing else? – Mazura Dec 12 '15 at 2:50
  • @Mazura- stuck in a rut typically means that they've fallen into a mindless cycle of repetition that isn't easily gotten out of: I know I should go home and exercise, but every day I just go home and plop down on the sofa and turn on the TV. I'm stuck in a rut and can't break out. OP's situation isn't like your carriage wheels are stuck in the wheel track in the road, it's more akin to a tree fallen across the road that prevents forward movement. – Jim Dec 12 '15 at 4:19
  • Please explain you answer in full. Why would someone pick any of these? What circumstances would you pick one over the other. – Matt E. Эллен Dec 12 '15 at 14:06

As an alternative, especially if the project was intellectual and you reached a certain state in which you don't progress without a clear cause, you might use the noun or verb plateau:

plateau noun
: a period when something does not increase or advance any further

plateau verb
: to stop growing or increasing


If you are stuck because you have several alternatives and cannot choose between them this is called analysis paralysis.

Typically you have several possible avenues to pursue, but don't seem to have good criteria for choosing one. If you commit to one you might not be able to determine it's the wrong one until significant cost has been accrued. Therefore you spend more time analyzing the alternatives to try to make a more informed choice. When that analysis stretches out longer and longer and you still cannot make a decision, you are stuck in analysis paralysis.


Try a new word: Aporia - "an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory."

You have a theory about how to do something, but, you are WRONG, so it is not working. Your perplexity causes an impasse.

If I even knew how many times that happened to me while programming... One time it was due to an error in a printed reference book. I bought another book... found the problem.

For bonus points, the word also refers to a genus of Butterflies, so when the problem finally is solved, it is a transformation.

  • "For bonus points, the word also refers to a genus of Butterflies, so when the problem finally is solved, it is a transformation." - ha ha – Solace Dec 11 '15 at 22:22
  • I already used 'bottleneck', but thanks. Have you used 'aporpia' in the context of programming? – Solace Dec 11 '15 at 22:27
  • @Solace No, but if I was still a programmer, I would find uses for it often. I can't tell you how happy I was when I solved a very perplexing problem that threatened an entire project I had worked on for months. "OMG Butterflies!" – user126158 Dec 14 '15 at 1:59

In Agile, it's considered "blocked"



  • Please explain your answer in full. In what circumstances would someone use this? How does it apply to the OP? – Matt E. Эллен Dec 12 '15 at 14:06

Let me suggest three choices:

  1. The project has stuck in a rut.
  2. The project has run aground.
  3. The project has hit a wall.

All the three fit the situation narrated by the OP.

We can go with any of the three.

  • "Stuck in a rut and run around" have been suggested four hours before you by @user151230, how's merely repeating them an improvement? – A.P. Dec 12 '15 at 6:48
  • @A.P. - Ok, sir. If it be so, then I have no problem in removing any portion of my answer that you suggest. – Dinesh Kumar Garg Dec 12 '15 at 7:46
  • This appears to be a much earlier answer: english.stackexchange.com/a/293350/141939 Yours is therefore largely a duplicate. You might consider removing the duplicate parts and/or expanding your answer to provide more value to the community. – A.P. Dec 12 '15 at 8:07
  • Please explain why your options fit the OP's question. – Matt E. Эллен Dec 12 '15 at 14:07

"Development hell" if you're working on a game

Development hell or development limbo is media industry jargon for a state during which a film or other project remains in development without progressing to production. A film, video game, television program, screenplay, computer program,[1] concept, or idea stranded in development hell takes an especially long time to start production, or never does. Projects in development hell are not officially cancelled, but work on them slows or stops.



"The project is 'in neutral.'" (?) an automotive analogy

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    Welcome to EL&U. Please include any reference/research that can support your answer. I would advise you to take the tour and visit our help center to see how it works here. – user140086 Dec 12 '15 at 13:36

Go/ Run round in circles: to keep doing or talking about the same thing without achieving anything. (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)

The discussion kept going round in circles.

I've been running round in circles trying to get all the reports finished before the meeting.


Though this may stem from physics,"couldn't overcome the inertia" is also an expression which can be used to describe the situation

  • No =/ Inertia is very much used in English, but it is the force which resists a change. It's different. – Solace Dec 12 '15 at 13:05
  • Please give a full explanation why this would be suitable for the context. – Matt E. Эллен Dec 12 '15 at 14:08

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