How to Rescue A Failing IT Project - And When Not To - Stoneseed
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How to Rescue A Failing IT Project - And When Not To


A significant number of IT Project Manager friends have reported shorter times between going live with a project and that project running into trouble or starting to fail.  This means that they have to be on their mettle from the get-go and bring all their experience of rescuing a project in to play a lot earlier than usual – no honeymoon period!

I'm happy to report that all but one of them did rescue their project, either using their own years of knowledge and wisdom, getting advice from a trusted partner or by calling in help from the Project management as a Service market - where help is always on hand! Interestingly, the one who didn't rescue their project actually "strategically failed" - more on that later.

The debrief following projects that go AWOL can be very revealing and the lessons that can be learned could save your project in the future so, with that in mind, the Project Managers behind the above success stories and I have put our head together to compile a Project Recovery Tip List - it's by no means exhaustive and I would love to hear any additions that you have - please do get in touch!

1 - Prioritise

When a Project starts to fail you can be faced with a number of apparent contributing factors. It is crucial that you know what to deal with first! It's all too easy to get busy sorting out something that may not make much difference to your project's outcome.

Often a 'glaringly obvious cause' of failure can actually be a symptom of something else bigger that really needs attending to. A Project manager friend always tells the story of houseplant he had that had leaves that kept turning brown, he watered the plant, fed it and spent a small fortune on leaf care products but to no avail and then one day he caught the dog using the plant as a toilet. When a project fails it's all too easy to attend to the obvious - take a step back and take a second look before ploughing all your energy into what you see first.

TOP TIP - Always refer to your project’s goals and scope when assessing what to attend to.

2 - Consider reassessing your goals 

Are the goals you set out with realistic? Often the problem with a project is that its goals were way too optimistic and it can, sometimes, take initiation to realise this!  Scaling back goals is an awkward conversation to have but sacrificing some 'nice haves' to protect the main strategic business reason for the project is hardly a sacrifice at all. 

3 - Do It Now, Do It Brilliantly

When your IT Project slides towards a fail what you do next, how you react is key! Having established what you need to do speed is of the essence but you need to ensure that you are thorough in your execution. This is real 'A game' territory - anything less than 100% will not make the grade.

I love Moira Alexander's blog on this. She says, "Assign resources to address priority concerns. After identifying issues and their impact, resources can be assigned to address your prioritized concerns. Make quick yet methodical changes to realign the project activities. Communicate the changes to all necessary stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page."

Sometimes, you may find that you don't have adequate resources to address those concerns - the quicker you make that assessment the sooner you can enter the Project Management as a Service market to bolster your response. 

4 - Monitor Like You've Never Monitored Before

My PM friend Sue says that as soon as she identifies that a project is in trouble it gets placed in 'special needs' and it doesn't come out until the project is delivered or delivery is 100% guaranteed.

This doesn't mean breathing down the necks of her team but it does mean that she demands even greater transparency, governance and reporting. It also means a constant re-evaluation of priorities. Once issues have been satisfactorily attended to, you must reassess your project’s priorities and document your findings to avoid unnecessarily repeating work  - your time, talent and resources have become even more precious commodities - you have an extra responsibility now to monitor their allocation.

Also, once you believe your project is back on track you need to have a regular routine in place for monitoring all your project commitments to make sure the wider portfolio is not affected negatively by the work you had to do to bring this one back on track - it can be like plate spinning!

5 - Be Honest - Is the Project Worth Saving?

Too often, pride plays a major part in deciding to rescue a project. No-one wants to be associated with a failed project but if a project is not going to deliver the intended business outcomes or those outcomes are no longer relevant, then tough choices have to be made based on a commercial view.

Remember I mentioned that I was happy to report that all but one of the failing project that had appeared on my radar were rescued and the one that wasn't "strategically failed"? This was a project that, having got underway, had soon been rendered commercially and strategically less valuable by the actions of a competitor. The blip that flagged this the project was off-course was actually a blessing that allowed the team to fully take stock and agree that although it could be turned around - there was very little point in doing so. 

Hopefully some food for thought there. I think that the greatest thing that you can do when an IT Project slides into trouble is talk - you know what they say about a problem shared!? The quicker that you are transparent about a problem the faster you can get to sorting it - so talk! Talk to team colleagues, stakeholders, sponsors and because, more often than not an external pair of independent eyes can see things that you have become blind to, talk to your trusted project management services partner.

Find out more about Project Management as a Service

PS. Looking for an easy holiday read? How about our newly launched E-Book full of Project Management blogs? Download your FREE copy and take it away with you!

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