If your project is currently in a tailspin, I want you to know that you are not alone. At every level of a project, from weekend DIY’s to multi-million dollar programs, failure is a real possibility. A failing project can be overwhelming for many project managers, but there are specific and basic steps one can take to beginning the road of recovery.
I believe when a project is failing, the first step should be to ask yourself, “is this project worth completing?”
Sometimes a project has little chance of success. Sometimes an overestimation of skills and an underestimation of difficulty meet each other like two cars in a The Fast and The Furious movie. If your project is failing, you need to evaluate the project’s worth. A DIY project that has quickly gotten out of hand may just require sacrificing some pride and/or ego to determine if the correct course of action is to scrap the whole plan. But what if you are currently trying to complete a graduate degree, or deliver a product to a client on time? These types of projects carry many more consequences for failure. In project management vocabulary, every project has what are called stakeholders. Stakeholders are individuals or groups that stand to be a part of or are affected by the outcome of a project. Part of developing a solid plan is determining the stakeholders at the outset of a project. If you don’t know who all the stakeholders of your project are, determining them is an imperative first step.
Communicating with Stakeholders
While a project is failing, the temptation of presenting a more successful outlook to stakeholders can be tremendous. But to stop digging the hole your project is going to be buried in, you need to communicate truthfully with the stakeholders. You will never receive a lifebuoy if people don’t know that you are drowning. Chances are your mentors or senior members of your organization can give valuable advice on how to recover your project.
A common reason for a failing project is a constantly changing scope. In case you’re unfamiliar, project scope refers to the work that is expected to be completed by the end of a successful project. However, most project managers have encountered the villain known as scope creep, or the tendency of projects to continually expand or change course over time. An example: the original project scope consists of create Product A. By the time Product A has been created, the client asks if the manager can provide maintenance on Product A. Also, the client wants to know if the manager can help market Product A to potential clients.
Scope creep may not be as apparent as this, but unless your original scope is locked down in an iron contract, scope creep is bound to happen.
After determining that a project is worth recovering, you need to re-evaluate the current scope of the project to ensure that the final outcome is what was planned on from the beginning. Regardless of project type, creative people have to battle against the feeling that the project could always be just a little bit better. If the original scope of your project is still required, you need to communicate with the stakeholders and team members that distracting tasks that do not steer the project toward completing the original scope will be stopped. Sometimes the original scope is no longer applicable though. Sometimes a client may change their mind and want Product B instead of Project A. In this case, the manager needs to sit down with the client and re-define the project’s scope.
When recovery is the best choice for a failing project, compromises will undoubtedly be required. Failing does not usually happen rapidly. Failing normally results from adding bad decisions on top of other bad decisions. To recover a failing project, the trifecta of project management – time, quality, cost – need to be compromised. A project behind schedule may require increasing the budget to catch tasks up. The project timeline may need to be lengthened to ensure that the product is produced with high quality. A project that must be completed within a certain time range may require settling for a Honda solution instead of a Cadillac solution. These compromises are usually tough to absorb, but a project would not be failing if the original plan was adequate.