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Project Failure Warning Signs

failing project recoveryWe all know how projects should be initiated. After a thorough planning process in which the  crystal clear scope is laid out and everyone agrees on a sound plan, all team members go to work and “just” execute the plan. So much for the theory. Enterprise Project Management Main Page

In reality, however, project failure rates are high. Projects often do not get initiated the right way and you must launch a recovery of a failing project. Perhaps someone else did the planning and you are assigned to take over the execution phase. Or someone else didn’t get the project done right and you have been asked to fix it. In any case, I hope that this post will get you on your way to successfully manage whatever someone throws at you. Project Failure

The first and most important task for you in taking over an already planned or already running project is to understand the project’s scope. If you don’t know where the ship should go, you won’t be able to steer it. This is especially important when you are asked to take over a project. You must understand the scope and if you can’t find a solid scope statement, remember that it is never to late to compile one. If you don’t understand the scope, chances are you are not alone. Without a solid scope, you will have a hard time finishing what someone else started. I found it most useful to actually draw a picture that shows what is and what is not in the scope. Make sure that at least you and the sponsor are crystal clear about what you have to deliver. Project Rescue

Second, try to find the project charter and the stakeholder register. The project charter should tell you why you do what you do and what your boundaries are as a project manager. This is very important because you will have to maneuver your project around many obstacles and it is always good to know what the boundaries are. The stakeholder register is important because it lets you get in touch with the people who are most important to the project.

Third, introduce yourself to the major stakeholders and the project team. Make sure they have the same understanding of the project scope that you have. Get the project team together and for an update on the current status. This is also a good time to go over the project plan with the team. You might wonder why you should go over the project plan so late in the game. Well if you know the scope, it will be easier for you to spot weaknesses in the plan, especially if you go over the plan with the team.

Last but not least, if you identify a major weakness, you should address it. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel, but you should point out what want to do differently. Project Catastrophes

So here is the bottom line: don’t be shy to take up the challenge of rescuing a failing project. However, I urge you to start with the scope. Your job as the project manager is to keep the big picture in mind. If you have to take over a project to turn it around, you will find that most often the project failed because of scope creep or other scope related issues. Tackle the scope first, all other things will fall into place.


One thought on “Project Failure Warning Signs

  1. […] solutions and discussing problems, make sure you’re aware of where these issues lie. Dick Billows, PMP, GCA, encourages PMs to start with the key stakeholders or project charters to figure out what […]

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