The first thing in project recovery is to evaluate the overall project – an audit or project review using a series of standard questions should identify the key problems and the severity of each one. This will allow you to prioritize project recovery planning and activity so that you tackle the most serious problems first, then work down the list. During the review, you might find some areas where you can stop the bleeding – for instance, if scope is unstable and forever changing, the introduction of a strict change control process should at least help to firm up and stabilize the scope.
The degree of planning for project recovery will vary from project to project – some projects may need a full anesthetic (stop all work) to allow an operation to be performed (redefining scope or even another round of project planning). Some may need a plaster cast to immobilize a broken part (to prevent any more changes to scope until the project is stabilized), some areas may need a bandage (some corrective measures that may restrict progress but not stop the project), some only need a sticking plaster (minor corrective measures that have minimal impact on overall progress), and some just need some TLC (smooth out minor issues).
Recognize When Project is Unrecoverable
After evaluation of the troubled project you may determine that there is no good business case for project recovery so we may need to cut our losses and move on rather than waste time and money on further planning. In this case, we need to plan euthanasia – let the project die as painlessly and with as much dignity as possible.
A failing project needs the help of a well-trained project planning professional, also called a recovery Project Manager to minimize recovery time, cost, and residual damage if the project can be saved, or to recognize when euthanasia is the recommended option.
Selling the Recovery Plan and Motivating the Stakeholders
Once the project planning professional has performed triage and avoided project failure, he has to be able to create and “sell” a prioritized recovery plan to all stakeholders. Communication is critical on any project, but it is particularly vital during project recovery where there may be a demoralized team, furious customer, nervous management, and unhappy bean counters to satisfy.
When the plan is accepted and recovery is under way, the project planning professional must be able to motivate the team to reach for success, pacify customers and give them confidence in eventual success, and provide the bean counters with a realistic plan that can be regularly measured and reported on. Progress must be carefully monitored, controlled, and reported throughout the recovery and responses to unplanned events (risks) should be decisive, quick, and effective or we could be facing further project failure.
Finally, during the recovery period, it is important to keep your team positive – build in milestones to allow you to publicize and praise even small achievements. Build a momentum based on success, so that the team and other stakeholders perceive it as “normal” to meet milestones, and in contrast, missing a milestone is unusual and stands out amongst all the other successes.
Project failure is preventable with good project planning based on a well-constructed deliverables-based Work Breakdown Structure and proper controls. However, once a project starts to fail, there are techniques to recognize it, minimize the extent of the failure and make the recovery as successful as possible. There may be some casualties along the way, such as some reduction in scope, additional time, and/or additional cost, but with good project planning and timely intervention where required, these can be minimized. A project manager needs to be trained in these techniques not only to recover a failing project, but more importantly, reduce the chances of creating one themselves in the future!
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