Lego man with a stop sign
Project management

Five reasons you need to kill your project

Psoda blog author avatar
30 July 2018

We’ve all been there. Working on a project that just isn’t going anywhere. It’s burning money, people keep changing and the deadlines are being pushed further and further out. Everyone knows the project needs to be put out of its misery, but no one is brave enough to do it.
Over the years, I’ve been involved in many projects which fell into the above scenario. I can only remember one that was stopped when it should have been.
In an ideal world, stopping a project shouldn’t be a difficult decision. It should be based on logic and sound business reasons, and everyone will unanimously agree to do so.
Unfortunately, in the real world killing a project is an emotive decision that is likely to be difficult and conflicted. People often think that stopping a project is a sign of failure – either as an organisation or as individuals. I know a few project managers who see stopping a project as a personal failing. Failing to stop a project is also a great example of the sunk costs fallacy. I’ve spent x, but if I just spend y, then it will get better. Regrettably, that rarely happens.
So here are five reasons why you need to kill your project:

Flogging a dead horse

The project has been hanging on with a token amount of money and people assigned to it, but has not achieved anywhere close to the benefits that were originally promised.

Budget blow out

The project is about to overspend by a significant amount of money. Whether this will achieve more than the originally forecast benefits or not, the project should be stopped. Then a full cost benefit analysis can be completed and an informed decision made.

Loss of key project staff

Your project manager and/or senior BAs have decided to leave. If the project is not finished or close to finishing, now is a good time to re-evaluate and decide if it’s worth continuing. It’s likely this loss of key staff will have a significant detrimental effect on timelines anyway, so using the time wisely beforehand could save pain down the track.

Change in strategic goals

It’s mid-year and the board decides to change strategic direction. This invalidates one of your project’s key assumptions. At this point, you need to go to the project steering committee with a recommendation to stop and re-allocate the resources to another project that better contributes towards the strategic goals.

No one wants to buy it

R&D is a wonderful thing and has resulted in the creation of some amazing advances in technology, science and medicine. However, for every single success there are hundreds of failures. You came up with this super duper shiny “thing” that’s going to change the world. Now it’s almost ready, the sales team has discovered that no-one actually wants it. Yes, you’ve spent millions developing it and with only a couple of hundred thousand dollars more it will be ready, but if no one wants to buy it, it’s an expensive mistake. Stop while you’re up a few hundred thousand dollars and spend the money on marketing the product to get some sales that will then fund the final development.
What can you do to ensure a project doesn’t get too far down the track before you discover it needs to be stopped? Here are some tips:

  • Put metrics or triggers in place up front that will help you to identify the projects in your portfolio that must be considered for culling
  • Keep track of your spending to date, your estimates to complete the projects and most important, what benefits you expect to achieve from those projects
  • Re-evaluate the benefits regularly to make sure your assumptions still hold true and any changes, to policies for example, do not affect your expected return on investment

Stopping a project is never an easy choice to make. Luckily, as the project manager it’s not your call to make. Your job to go to your steering committee with the right information so they can make the tough decision.

How can Psoda help?

Psoda provides a safe, secure place to store all of your programme and project information giving you access to rich, real time reporting. Helping you make the tough decisions based on sound evidence instead of gut feel.
Sign up for a free trial to see how Psoda can help you.

Rhona Aylward avatar
Written by Rhona Aylward
Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

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