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How to get a failing project back on track

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3 Steps for project rescue and recovery

When you suspect a business initiative is losing steam or support, it’s important to take swift and thoughtful action.  Getting a failing project back on track is possible, but it will become increasingly challenging if problems are given time to grow and spread.

Use the following three steps to rescue your project and protect your investment:

  1. Identify the symptoms and causes of current issues.
    When a project derails, suffers from scope creep, or becomes a drain on resources, the worst thing you can do is give in to reactivity.  This is a time to step back, evaluate the situation you’re up against, and initiate conversations with stakeholders.  Assess what is and isn’t working to effectively determine what the most urgent and impactful next steps should be.  Challenges you may come up against include weak executive sponsorship, project leadership by committee, lack of accountability, conflicting priorities, unclear deadlines, and/or ownership issues.  None of these problems are insurmountable, but they won’t resolve themselves.  Only by identifying the symptoms afflicting your project can you effectively uncover the root cause of your current issues.
  2. Align the people with the project. 
    When a project goes awry, leadership becomes more important than ever.  Any ambiguity around who the key sponsors and stakeholders are interferes with progress.  This leads to projects that end up either on the back burner or run by committee, which encourages a lack of disciplined decision making that can drain resources.  Re-engage people in the project by keeping it front of mind in conversations and communications.  A comeback is a great opportunity to build your culture, communication channels, and change management aptitude.  Like a tree that survives a harsh winter, your organization can become more resilient due to a temporary setback if you tackle it in a way that inspires confidence.
  3. Revise the plan accordingly. 
    Once your stakeholders define and accept their role in your project’s success, it’s time to work towards a unified vision.  This requires a plan that aligns the disparate components of a project and makes accountability and timelines clear.  Appeal to those with experience implementing similar plans in the past to speak up.  Giving team members a chance to demonstrate their value is a great way to turn a business challenge into an opportunity for professional growth.  Your updated plan will be fit for purpose once the scope and priorities are clearly defined.  This frees people to focus on their expertise instead of wondering about deadlines, next steps, and activities they are accountable for.  When your plan is built to empower your people, it fosters the healthy initiative required for project recovery.

Reinvigorating a stale or struggling project can be tough, but it’s nothing compared to generating interest in a failed one.  Act fast by identifying the reasons your project derailed so you can engage the leadership capable of recharging your initiative. When you’re working with people and processes, moving in a productive direction is about being proactive, not reactive.  Fortunately, with a little strategic realignment, you can get your failing project back on track and rebound to recovery.

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