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Help! My project is over budget and behind schedule, what should I do?

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Help – I’m the project manager on what can only be described as a hospital pass of a project. I was given the role four months ago after the previous project manager resigned (she was the third PM in a year!).

Because of the constant change in project managers, the project has really lost its way. The team is demotivated at best, while some have been reassigned to other projects. The work is so far behind schedule, it will be months before we even get close to catching up. Plus, our budget has been blown as people have been billing for their time without completing the work.

What do I do?

First, don’t panic! Although it seems like the sky is about to fall in, there are some things you can do.

Start by locking down the spending. Even if that means saying no-one can charge anything to the project, then that’s what you do.

Next, gather all the information you have and do a “state of the nation” review. This will involve looking at all the documentation, budget, resource plans, project plans, timelines, etc. This might take some time, but will give you a line in the sand from where you can make any judgement calls.

At this point it’s worth taking the results of the review to your steering committee and get their input into the situation. If things are really that bad, it might be better if the project is shut down rather than have it limp along costing money and delivering nothing. Make sure you have estimates ready for how much it will cost and how long it will take to shut down the project as well.

If the steering committee decides to continue, look to re-baseline the project. Redraft the work breakdown structure and schedule with the help of the project team. Work out what you can deliver within the timescale and the current available budget. Present this option to the steering committee for approval.

At this point you really need to stand your ground, as from the information you gave there is no way you will be able to deliver the original project.

If the steering committee decides to shut the project down, do so in a controlled manner and document everything in the lessons learned register and close out report.

Regardless of the outcome, remember it was not your fault.

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