How to fix a failing project

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The author spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in technical SEO and Content Marketing.

Your project is circling the drain.  You know it, your team members know it, even the guy that delivers the sandwiches knows it.  Somehow though, your management haven’t gotten wind of it yet.  Let’s try and keep it that way, at least until you have fixed the problem.

Get back to the basics

Let’s start by going back to the parts of the project that must be done, those parts that have to be accomplished no matter what, and let’s get some focus back. Remember your basic project management training such as the APM Project Fundamentals and review the project as if your were just starting it. List all of the things that were added to the project ‘unofficially’.  What you want to achieve is a very clear picture of what is expected from you and your team.  With these two lists complete, take them to your sponsor, or investor, and agree on what should be kept and what should not in order to move the project forward.

Create a new schedule

Looking at the remaining resources, and work left to do, work out your schedule again.  At this stage, the deadlines that had previously been put into place need to be given up as lost.  You need to pick your battles carefully and sticking to past deadlines on an already struggling project is one you cannot win.  Look at what you need to do, and what you have available to do it, and work out a more realistic timetable.

Refactor the cost

Write down the project budget, and remove the amount that has already been spent.  Now look at what still remains to be done.  Visiting your new schedule for reference, get out your calculator and figure out a reasonable, but realistic, estimate to complete the job.

Identify mistakes made

Get your team together and discuss the issues with the project, and try and find out where things went wrong and what you can do to avoid making those mistakes again.

Construct alternative routes

Using the project parameters, schedule and new costs as a base – review the options open to you.  Is your plan to rescue the project going to have a significant impact on areas of the project that you need to be aware of?  Will you need more resources, time or a parameter change or tweak?  You need to be aware that some projects cannot be saved, and the only way to prevent even more time and money from being wasted is to cancel it completely.  Another option, though not necessarily a recommended one, is to reduce the amount of time testing the project before it is launched. This is clearly a risky strategy but may, in some cases, be necessary.

Smell the coffee

Once you have other, viable alternatives you need to swallow your pride and go to your management team.  Be prepared though, they are not going to like hearing the words ‘failed project’, so hopefully you have a solid plan to get your project back on track.  Lay it all out for them in a way that does not point fingers at anybody, and be honest about what went wrong and what you need in order to fix things.

Start from the top

Send out a revised statement, get the funding if more money is needed, start the work schedule again from the beginning.  It is important that you learn from the mistakes that killed your project the first time around.



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Project management has developed into a fully-fledged chartered profession since the granting of the Royal Charter in the UK to The Association for Project Management (APM) in 2017. Training courses for project managers were already available and highly popular to help people gain professional project management accreditation, but with this wider recognition of the profession it is now seen as a desirable career path for many. Whilst the APM has the coveted Royal Charter and continues to develop its APM PMQ (formerly the APMP) programmes, there are also other internationally recognised qualifications that continue to be highly regarded such as PMP and PRINCE2.

Organisations have become increasingly project-focused in this era of rapidly emerging new technologies and they value the expertise that comes with experienced and fully qualified project teams and managers. By investing in their project management capability businesses can be confident of delivering their new projects in time and on budget more often and more successfully. Many major corporation are now training their people to have the right project management qualifications as well as relevant experience, through internal Learning & Development (L&D) programmes; or by using external project management training providers.

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