Unexpectedly Intriguing!
February 28, 2007

We've looked at the warning signs and we've talked about what a project manager needs to do to avoid trouble from getting out of hand, but what do you do when your project has already struck the metaphorical iceberg?

More than anything else, righting a troubled project means establishing order and control after things have spiralled out of control. In that sense, the project manager is a lot like a police officer showing up at the scene of a crime after the crime has been committed. It's not that the police officer is there to solve the crime right on the spot, so much as it is the officer's main job to re-establish a sense of order where it has broken down.

Where a project is concerned, the project manager needs to focus on the following in getting the project back on track:

  1. Stopping any financial hemorrhaging. Getting control over what's being spent is absolutely essential to keeping the project afloat.
  2. Getting essential work done. There are tasks that are critical to the functioning of the project - these need to take top priority.
  3. Validating the project's purpose. There are reasons why the project was launched - confirming if these are still true is essential if the project is to continue.
  4. Capturing the project's true status. You won't really know what's broken and where resources need to be directed until you know how things stand.
  5. Fixing what's broken. This step requires the input of the project's various stakeholders (team members, sponsors and bankers), who you're asking to realistically assess the project's condition while buying into what needs to be done to repair it.

Depending on the outcome of the first four steps listed above, you may not get around to fixing what's broken. Instead, the project may not be recoverable and it may be in the best interests of all involved to manage it through to its termination.


More information: The Long Island chapter of the Project Management Institute has incorporated portions of Jim Foreman's comments on how to move a troubled project to recovery in their January 2007 minutes.

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