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Project Management
Don’t Panic! Recovering a Failing Project in Five Steps
Don’t Panic! Recovering a Failing Project in Five Steps 1024 683 Josie Walledge

You’re working on an important IT project. You’re focused and doing your utmost to pull everything and everyone together to deliver. But you can see that, despite your best efforts, the project is failing. You know your customer  is not happy; the team is well-intentioned but not clicking. Deadlines are being missed, costs are spiralling and management are on your back.

Admitting failure is not in most people’s nature. So, here’s a question. Do you…

  1. Ignore the project objectives (they must have been wrong anyway).
  2. Throw more resources at the project – increase staff, overtime and budget.
  3. Blame your colleagues, they’re obviously not working as hard as you.
  4. Carry on regardless and hope for a miracle.

The IT Road to Project Recovery

At Software Solved the answer is always, “none of the above”! Instead, we take a step back to understand the project, assess the current status and make a plan. It’s not always the easiest choice but it’s the right one if you want to get back on track and succeed.

You’ll need to be a team player with the ability to think creatively, make evidence-based judgments and lead from the front, demonstrating strong and courageous decision-making.

Take control of your software project

 Here are our top tips for recovering a failing project:

  1. Understand the project

Review the project background and objectives. Understand the project plan, key milestones and deliverables. Interview team members and other internal stakeholders to understand their perspectives. Then, when you have clarity, talk to your customer about the situation and let them know what you’re planning to do next.

  1. Assess the current status

Once a project is identified as failing, you need to address these questions:

  • What is the true project status?
  • Do the activities in the project plan align to key business objectives?
  • What work has been completed and what is left to do?
  • What is the critical path and what threats and opportunities does the project face?

Armed with the information from steps 1 and 2, apply root cause analysis techniques to help understand why the project is failing. There could be a number of reasons: inadequate planning and control, poorly defined requirements, lack of appropriate resource, loss of management support, poor quality processes leading to excessive rework, to name but a few. Throughout this process, let your team know what you are doing and why. Seek opportunities to boost morale and create a positive culture for change.

  1. Identify trade-offs and negotiate

Prioritise requirements and tasks based on business value and importance (the ‘MoSCoW Technique’ is a helpful tool). Identify possible trade-offs, opportunities for increasing business value through change and alternative delivery models. Is the project even worth saving?!

Having agreed a negotiation position, it’s time to talk to the customer again (face to face is best). Be honest about the current situation and present your options for recovery. Use this opportunity to validate assumptions, rebuild trust and confidence by demonstrating a clear and comprehensive plan, then negotiate a way forward.

  1. Re-baseline the project

Congratulations, you’ve done the hard part! Now you need to update your project plan, including actions to address and mitigate key issues and risks.  Establish control measures to keep the new project on track. We recommend holding a ‘kick-off’ meeting to communicate the new baseline. Keep your team focussed by defining clear roles and responsibilities: set short, achievable tasks and give regular constructive feedback.

  1. Execute the plan

As the project is recovering, keep an eye on your key metrics with scheduled checkpoints. Remember, the customer and other business departments will probably be watching the project more closely. Be sure to protect your team from unwarranted pressure and maintain open communication with relevant stakeholders. We find that a regular supply of cakes helps to keep everyone happy too!

It’s not easy to turn around a failing process but it’s not impossible. The longer you delay, the greater the risks, so it’s vital to act quickly and decisively. And, worth remembering, Software Solved are always here to talk to people about delivering successful IT projects.

Josie Walledge, Senior Project Manager

Software Solved specialises in custom and bespoke development, data visualisation and Insurance Risk Management systems, delivering over 1000 successful IT projects since 1998.

Contact us at hello@softwaresolved.com to discuss any systems, data or project requirements. We’re happy to talk.

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