How to Turn Around a Failing Project?

Have you ever been asked to takeover a failing project? The reasons for a project going to “code red” are numerous, but can usually be classified into seven areas:

1 – Lack of crisp requirements
2 – Insufficient resources
3 – Unrealistic time line
4 – Lack of a clear business case
5 – Poor project planning and/or inexperienced project leadership
6 – Technical and/or process issues
7 – Lukewarm project sponsorship – insufficient authority for the project leader

When taking over a project at risk, the first thing one can do is ask these questions:

  • How compelling is the business case for the project?
  • Do you have clear requirements?
  • Is there a project plan, and is it up-to-date?
  • Is there a change control process in place?>
  • Is the project’s status reporting reliable and transparent?
  • Is the project sponsor supportive and effective?
  • What are the top customer’s concerns?
  • What is the project’s financial situation?
  • Is the project on schedule or not?

Equipped with answers to these questions, the next step is to address these six areas:

1. The Project team

  • Take inventory of teams’ strengths and weaknesses
  • Address resource sufficiency issue
  • Address morale issues – make resource changes if necessary
  • Create a sense of urgency (how does this project impact the company and the team?)

2. Customer

  • Manage customer expectations
  • Insist on dealing with the decision maker(s)
  • Insist on being given the authority to act. and the resources to succeed
  • Present the solution quickly (within 1-2 weeks)
  • Schedule short summary meetings for each day with the customer
  • Communicate success and challenges with high degree of transparency

3. Technology

  • Address any infrastructure problems
  • Address software and tools needs
  • Resolve implementation and logistical issues

4. Project

  • Re-establish and assert control over the project
  • Tighten up the requirements
  • Update the project plan and act accordingly
  • Implement a change management process
  • Start project reporting immediately
  • Re-work the project plan and Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) into smaller chunks
  • Aim for quick wins to build credibility

5. Financial

  • If the project is over budget, secure additional funds, reduce scope, or increase time to completion. If these options are not available, you may have to put the project on hold, or a decision may have to be made to kill it.

6. Operations

Address logistical barriers, and ensure buy-in from the operations line managers and leaders.

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