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Rescuing a project in trouble

Trouble: Hands with red help sign reaches out from big heap of crumpled papers

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.

Projects get in trouble for all sorts of reasons, normally a combination of problems that have come together to create a perfect storm.
If you are ever in the unfortunate position of having to recover a failing project there are a number of steps you can take to resolve the situation, these include:

1. Meet with the key stakeholders

Sit down with the client(s), project team, project steering committee and any other interested parties to find out what the lie of the land is. This is also a good time to get insights into why those parties think the project is in trouble and if they have any ideas on how to get the project back on track. This can be a useful source of information you may not otherwise get access to.

2. Review formal project documents

Reviewing any of the project documents, such as the statement of work, project initiation document, original schedule or requirements, can give you information on what the project should be achieving.

3. Document the reasons the project is failing

This will give you a formal record that should be signed off by the steering committee if possible

4. Develop and document a recovery plan

This plan needs to be very detailed and should include work packages that contain clear accountability. If possible, work packages should be signed off by the work package owner. This gives you an audit trail if required.

5. Work the plan and report the progress

Let the client, steering committee and other relevant parties know how you are tracking with the recovery plan. Reporting should ideally be more frequent at the beginning of the recovery process as this will build confidence in your ability. As the recovery progresses, reporting can become less frequent if required.

These suggestions come with one caution, however – they won’t always work!

In reality, some projects just cannot be saved and as the project manager you need to be able to make a judgement call as to whether it is worth the time, effort and expense of trying to recover a project – or if it would be better to simply close the project down and start from scratch.


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