What to Do When a Project is Failing

Companies that have a desire to be leaders in their industry tend to take on multiple projects and also to take risks. Such companies may experience the ‘red’ several times as their project enters failure mode. There is nothing wrong with that as it is all a part of the business experience. The answer to such tight spots lies in the knowledge the company possesses on what to do to rescue their failing project. It is essential for companies that are willing to take risks to have the know-how to turn around a failing or troubled project. This article will discuss some measures businesses can take to rescue their failing projects.

The Basic Four-Step Process for Recovering a Project

  1. Audit: Project managers must be prepared to have an unbiased acquisition of data to gain additional information about the people and the project.
  2. Analysis: The next step is to analyze the data in order to determine the root causes of problems and use the results to start developing the new project plan.
  3. Negotiation: Consultations must be done so that the new plans can yield a solution that is acceptable to both the supplier and the customer.
  4. Execute: Once the new plans have been made, it is time to implement the plan and corrective actions. The longer you take to make the corrections, the more costly it will become.

The Recovery Process

It is essential that those involved in the recovery process be responsible and understand they have a duty to identify when there is a problem. The human factor is important. The project manager will need to deal with the dynamics of the team, executives and stakeholders involved in the recovery process.

1. Auditing

Stop Work and Terminate the Current Schedule

When the problems start to mount and it becomes obvious the project is in trouble it is time to stop – not press on. Many project managers make the mistake of trying to save the project by forcing extra work and laying more responsibility on the development team. That is not the answer. Implementing failure prone tactics such as bringing in consultants or taking on more programmers is not the answer either.

If the wheel has become defective its best to stop, have it checked and tended to rather than to continue driving. In this case, let your team know that the current schedule was not working and that has the results are indicating it is flawed and unrealistic. It is now time to revamp and formulate a new, realistic, schedule.

It may not be easy, but the team should be made to understand the impending disaster and the financial loss.

Review and Reevaluate

Do a review of each feature and rate it based on its level of importance to the project. Is it a ‘must-have’, ‘nice to have’, ‘can wait’ or negotiable element? Ensure that each feature is rated. Remember the aim of reviewing and reevaluating is to identify the problem areas and make the necessary corrections.

2. Analysis

Is it Feasible to Continue?

Now that you have the results from your review and reevaluation, it’s time to analyze and determine whether to throw out the program or make adjustments and continue.

If it is possible, try to recover at least portions of the project and complete it instead of throwing it all out the door. If the issue lies with a third party then corrective measures can be taken to get the program back on track.

3. Negotiation

You will need to negotiate the schedule changes and specifications with the sponsors of the project. This may not be an easy task especially if it is politically charged, but it must be done. Follow the order of negotiation:

  1. Meet with the sponsors to examine and review the specifications and requirements. If this is where the problems lie then negotiate with them first.
  2. Go over the project features with the sponsors and inform them of the corrective measures that can be taken. Highlight which features can wait, can’t wait or can’t be done. Even if disagreements arise the ultimate aim is to come up with a realistic set of features that satisfies the situation and everyone involved.
  3. It is now time to negotiate the schedule. Avoid making any concrete commitments at this stage. Inform the sponsors that you will have to meet with the development team to come up with a realistic schedule that takes into consideration the recently negotiated terms. Do not set yourself up for a second failure by committing to a date so early.

4. Execute

Once your new schedule is formulated, it is time to get back to work and execute the plans. Be careful not to make the same mistakes that were made before and keep a keen watch for any re-occurrence of said problems. Do not ignore any problems that may arise.

Be careful about introducing new measures into a program that was failing though hopefully on the way to recovery. Consider introducing supporting measures, but do so in a timely manner. Also beware of any attempts on the part the sponsors who may try to have a thrown out feature reintroduced into the process.

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