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PM Corner

How to Advance Your Project from the Failure Zone to the End Zone

Posted by James Truesdale on March 11, 2017 at 2:50 PM

I have never been on a project that had not been in the ditch at least once during its lifetime.  So, I have seen my share of projects that look like they would never turn around. Those projects had the common symptoms of cost overruns, undisciplined team members, scope creep just to mention a few.  Projects are a lot like.  We know what we should be doing but we lack the discipline to carry out those necessary steps.  So, just in life, we procrastinate on projects.  We fail to have the difficult conversation with the team member who is not performing as expected. We are reluctant to really look at our bank account to see where all the money is going. Projects are made up of people, tools and processes just like the workings of daily life. And, just as we are central to our own lives, the Project Manager is central to the project.

So, let's review a few steps to get our failing project back on track. I always start with the Project Manager by asking a few straightforward questions. For example, a tough but essential question regarding the PM might be posed as such: Does the PM have the experience and depth of knowledge required to lead the effort from this point of failure going forward?  It is virtually impossible to solve a problem with the same ingredients that were part of the current problem.  I am not suggesting that you blame the PM for the current state of the project.  What is done is done. The real question to ask is can is person lead the project to its successful conclusion once it has been set back on course?  This project evaluation shpould be conducted for all members for the existing team.  At this point, you may have to make some personnel changes, perhaps.

Then, I would look at the project processes to review the approach that is being taken to conduct requirements analysis for example or maybe how project actions are being tracked.  Maybe the steps that were planned previously are inadequate and has caused a point of failure.  The way in which you go about completing the project is just as important as the outcomes you have planned to deliver.  This is where you make any necessary adjustments to your project management processes.

Next, I would examine at all external influencers be that people, technology or process based.  Perhaps, some key stakeholders were overlooked and they are now doing everything they can to sabotage the project.  Or, the technical solution may have not been properly vetted and now the best technical solution is coming up short resulting in tough discussions with the customer.  About technology, it might be imperative to review the initial requirements to ensure they can be met by the technical solution that has been presented.  It may be necessary to adjust the designs and hence the software solution that is being developed.  Concerning the stakeholders, a revisit of the stakeholder analysis document to review the stakeholder list and all activities taken may prove beneficial.  it might be necessary to re-engage the stakeholder team to ensure that all voices have been heard and addressed where appropriate.

These initial actions will begin the dialogue leading to a tactical plan to get your failing project back on track.


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