Saving the Project: Most Important Issues

It has happened so that recently I have been working a lot with crisis projects. These are projects where the money has been wasted, the goals have not been achieved, all deadlines have been broken many times, the manager has been fired or has run away, and the team motivation level is low. Unfortunately, most of such projects can’t be closed – they are important for customers.

In aviation there’s a special notion – ‘point of no return’ to refer to the point on a flight at which, due to fuel consumption, a plane is no longer capable of returning to the airfield it took off from. This notion can be applied to project management as well – at some certain point it’s much simpler to start a new project than to try to save the old one. The existing resources (time, people, money) are not enough for introducing changing to the project. As a rule, crisis projects have passed the ‘point of no return’ or are very close to it.

What should you do if you got such a project? First of all, don’t be downhearted. That’s no use. You might get a new fresh idea and save the project. Secondly, you have to understand that now this ‘problem’ is only yours. The previous manager is now sitting at home and sending his resume to other companies and doesn’t care about your project any more. Very soon this manager will be forgotten and the unsuccessful project will be associated with you only. Thus, you’d better quickly and correctly understand the core of the project and put it under your control and lead to the end (of course, successful).

In order to have some chances to succeed, you have to start correctly. A good beginning is half the battle. Here are some questions and answers that are likely to help you to start successfully:

What is the project about? What problems will be solved if the project is completed? A small description will be enough to understand what exactlythe project was going to achieve.

Which business objectives does the project pursue? Are there any measurable indicators of these business objectives? The business objective has to be expressed in figures, for example, ‘After launching a new website, the sales of mobile phones will increase by 15% monthly’.

Who is the customer? Who initiated the project? Who is interested in it? If nobody needs this project and there’s no chance to find a customer, there’s no use in continuing this project.

What are the consequences of the project failure? There are situations when the results of the project are not actual – in this case, closing project is the best idea since you will be able to save money.

Who is the sponsor of the project? You’d better establish good contacts with the most important figure of the project and make yourself solid with him.

Who is in the project team? You will be surprised but sometimes people work for months on the project and don’t know anything about it.

What is the aim of the project? Does everybody understand it? Have the criteria for its achievement been formulated? If the aim of the project hasn’t been formulated and communicated to the team, forget about the positive result.

Have the project tasks been defined? Is there a schedule for executing these tasks? Are there responsible executors and deadlines related to these tasks? If there’s no schedule, it’s not clear at all how the project is being executed.

Do you use the right task management software? Sometimes the wrong choice of software can result in effective project management. I’d recommend using Comindware Tracker (more information can be found here).
Is there a list of risks and risk management plan? The question is rhetorical.If there had been the risk management plan, the project wouldn’t have failed. It’s time to make a risk register and risk management plan.

What is the situation with the approved budget and the actual state of things? You’d better check the bills, payouts, and sources of financing and find out about the money left.

In fact, that’s all. Moreover, the above mentioned things can be successfully applied while working not only with crisis projects but also for accepting and delegating projects.

Of course, there are millions of projects where performing these conditions is not obligatory. Probably you’ll be able to save a dying project with your intuition, experience, and luck. But why should you risk if these risks can be reduced?

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