Tip 1: Be open to the possibility that the project is failing. It is natural for project managers and project teams to have a task-oriented focus. And, most project methodologies anticipate project difficulties and provide monitoring and controlling processes for change, issues, and problem management. However, the resulting mindset for the project effort can often be singularly focused on getting the project back on track to the exclusion of any real consideration given to the fact that the project may very well be failing. Be open to the possibility that the project effort could be failing.
Tip 2: Recognize early warning signs. Early warning signs, both good and bad, exist in all projects. Early warning signs can be seen in just about every aspect of the project effort such as the attitudes of the parties involved in the project effort, the performance of infrastructure, systems, tools and machinery, and internal and external factors that can impact project scope, timing, and risk. It is always easier to get projects back on track that haven’t drifted too far off course. Recognizing the project early warning signs helps to prevent projects from failing.
Tip 3: Beware of the last mile syndrome. Often times, project managers fall victim to the “last mile syndrome.” That is, it takes ninety percent of the project time to finish the last ten percent of the project scope. This can occur for many reasons from poor project requirements and scope planning to ad hoc development rather than process-oriented iterative development. The end result often is the extension of the project for just one more month, and again, and again. If you are still waiting for your last month, look in the mirror and admit you have a problem.
Tip 4: Admit you have a problem. Many project organizations continue with failing projects instead of taking action, corrective or termination, early. Often, project managers are skilled at managing project difficulties and have the confidence to think that they can project manage their way out of any bad project and in many cases they can. However, if you don’t get people to recognize that there is a problem then rescuing the project is going to be very difficult. When you identify the reluctance to admitting there is a problem, then rescuing the project becomes much, much easier.
Tip 5: Pause the project. Pausing the project creates an opportunity to regroup, establish a new plan, and restore integrity to the project baseline. By continuing a failing project, you are likely to burn time and money against the project not knowing where you are truly headed or if you are on the path to completion. Pausing a project does not need to be difficult or scary. To pause the project, you may need someone with enough vision, clout and security to say, “This project is not on the right course.” Some people might think the ship is sinking and want to flee the project, but most will eagerly take advantage of the opportunity to get things back on track.
Tip 6: Audit the project. Even an experienced project manager can have great difficulties delivering a difficult, complex project. And often, organizations perform project management in an ad hoc manner without any processes or policies in place to help the project manager and all those involved in the project effort to ensure the integrity of the project. After pausing the project, assemble the appropriate members of the organization to conduct a project audit. The purpose of the project audit is not to place blame or to fix or re-baseline the project. Rather, the purpose of the project audit is to first find out the root causes for why the project is failing.
Tip 7: Assess the effort to complete the project. Restore the integrity of the project by assessing the effort, both schedule and budget, to complete the project. Often, when initially estimating projects, many project managers use intuitive estimating; they estimate from gut feel and personal opinion rather than from historical estimating experience. Intuitive estimating may work with smaller projects; however, larger projects require experienced-based estimating. If possible, enlist the aid of someone who has experience performing the particular project tasks in order to get realistic estimates. Additionally, establish and maintain a historical estimating database within the PMO so that future projects can be estimated more accurately.
Tip 8: Validate the business case for the project. Ask yourself, “Is it worth continuing the project?” It is possible that the project is no longer important or a priority for the organization. Additionally, external factors such as new technologies and alternative solutions may render the initial approach of the project obsolete. Before proposing that the project be restarted, validate the project’s business case.
Tip 9: Submit the project to governance. From a business perspective, determine if at this point in time the project still makes sense to pursue and if the project is an appropriate use of the resources of the company. Look at the value of the project and compare it to other competing project alternatives and initiatives. Perhaps previously the project was a priority, but now the project scorecard may rank quite differently. Use the governance process to gain formal understanding, approval, and support for the project.
Tip 10: Restart the project. Now that you have a new and approved project plan and new estimates, re-launch the project. Have the executive sponsor for the project communicate to the team how important the project is and take steps to ensure that the project team is prepared and mentally positive about restarting the project effort. Be mindful of all of the past project difficulties and be prepared to deal with potential roadblocks.