Can a Failing Project Recover?
Today I listened as an executive described her company’s critical initiative as a project that was ‘limping along.’ Sadly, that phrase brought to mind many costly and slowly failing projects I’ve heard about during my career. Each project had varied goals, different software, a range of budgets and varying timelines. But, they also had a great deal in common.
What factors cause the injuries that make a once vital project limp, stagger, gasp for breath, and die a slow death?
- Weak executive sponsorship
- Project leadership by committee
- Lack of accountability
- Disparate project components with equal priorities
- Ambivalent attitude toward achieving deadlines
- Absence of participation from anyone who has done a similar project
- Team members with full-time jobs who are doing the project ‘on the side’
If any of these characteristics made you wince, there are steps you can take to set things right. But there is no time to waste.
- The sponsoring executive must get squarely behind the person they put in charge of the project. And, someone has to be in charge. Projects cannot be successfully run by a committee. It is true that there is safety in numbers, and no one person can be blamed for a failed, committee-led project. However, it is equally true that no one will get credit for success; because committee-led projects don’t succeed.
- The disparate parts of the project have to be brought under a single, unified project plan. The components of the plan must have owners with accountabilities who understand the ways in which one aspect of a project is dependent upon another. The owners must commit to making the dates to which they have agreed. It is very instrumental to have someone involved who has experience with the same type of project. If resource time is insufficient, speak up! Good news can wait…bad news you tell right away.
- The scope of a limping project has to be tightly managed. The priorities have to be clearly understood and iteratively reordered. Critical functionality, what would be nice to have, what the deadlines are, what the budget is, and what can be put on hold for a future date should all influence decisions. The urge to go live only when you can deliver everything for everyone poses a life-threatening risk to even the healthiest initiative.
The temptation to disband the committee and not resuscitate a dying project is strong. But, if you think breathing life into a dying project is tough, you should try generating interest and enthusiasm for starting the same project all over again. Keep your initiative in motion; limp only until you can reinvigorate your project. Provide the leadership to nurse your project back to health and allow your company to capitalize on the investment that has already been made. If you acknowledge the warning signs, and follow this advice, your project will not only recover, but it will hit its stride.