Have a failing project? Get it back on track!

The project from heaven has turned into the project from hell. 

Nobody has said anything yet, but key milestones are about to be missed, it’s over budget, and now people are not even turning up for meetings.  Time’s running out!

Matt Craig, Director of Consulting at Core Catalysts and resident Project Management subject matter expert, offers up some tips on how to get things back on track:

1. Admit the project is in trouble!
The first step is to acknowledge that the Project has problems. It always helps if you have been looking for early warning signs, such as stakeholders not being engaged, big decisions continually getting deferred, lack of clarity, or major milestones and tasks not happening. If you spot any of these, speak up!

2. Don’t look back in anger
Concentrate on moving direction forward, not how the project got here; It’s more important to stop failing and stabilize than to begin a lengthy post-mortem when things can still be turned around.

3. Call in consultants
This might sound self-serving, but good consulting firms have specialist project recovery teams who have deep experience and expertise in getting projects back on track. Over many years and multiple previous engagements, we’ve seen many of these issues before and have gotten good at fixing them!

4. Don’t point fingers
Laying blame won’t help you recover, and those same people are likely to be the ones who you will need help from. In addition, people will only give you warning of further problems if there is a ‘no-blame’ culture.

5. Consider a pause
This may be the best option if it looks like the project is not going to deliver the functionality or benefits the original business case promised, will cost more than originally budgeted, or if the project might launch too late to meet the original opportunity identified. Don’t assume that if the project carries on it will ‘sort itself out’: pause, re-evaluate, and re-plan.

6. Give and take
In project management, we talk about the ‘iron-triangle’ of time, scope, and budget. Your options in project recovery will likely revolve around either increasing resources, extending delivery deadlines, or reducing project scope (but only if it still meets its business objectives). The iron-triangle may flex, but it can’t be broken­—so review resources, timescales, and budgets to ensure the project’s successful completion, and be prepared for some give-and-take!

7. Inject some fresh blood
While turning over the entire team is usually a bad idea, bringing in new people (and yes, consultants!) will bring fresh ideas with no emotional baggage. The optimum team to get things back on track includes a mix of old and new blood.

8. Rally the team
Restoring morale is a priority, and there are a number of ways you can do this. Get some quick wins on the scoreboard, celebrate successes, and get the executive sponsors of the project to come and show their appreciation. Give everyone a couple of days off.

Matt Craig, Client Service & Delivery