2 November, 2023

Project Turnaround: How to Turn around a Failing Project | Video

No one wants a failing project on their hands. But it happens. And the solution is a ‘Project Turnaround’. So, I will walk you through the five project turnaround steps to rescue a failing project.

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This is learning, so, sit back and enjoy

What is a ‘Failing Project’?

Before we start, let’s define what we mean by a failing project. I am going to choose a simple definition:

A failing project is one with severe slippage in schedule, budget, or quality.

The definition of severe (a weasel word) depends on your circumstances. The easiest way to think about it is to ask:

‘Do we still feel in control of the slippage, using our day-to-day monitoring and control processes?’

If you don’t, the slippage is severe, and you need to move into project turnaround mode.

Five-step Process to Turn Around a Failing Project

The five project turnaround steps we’ll be following are:

  1. Spot the Signs of Project Failure
    The first step is to recognize you have a problem, and trigger your Project Turnaround process.
  2. Evaluate the Situation
    Now you need to make a critical analysis of what has gone wrong, and what your options are to recover your failing project.
  3. Steady your Project
    This is the step where you start to stabilize your project to prevent a worsening of your situation.
  4. Rebuild Your Project
    Now it’s time to implement your full project turnaround plan, to get everything back on track.
  5. Maintain Your Project
    The last step is to create a sustainable project, which will continue to deliver to your plan, with a minimum of drama.

Spot the Signs of Project Failure

This relies on two things:

  • Effective project monitoring
  • Taking responsibility, rather than hiding your eyes from, failure

As part of this, you’ll need to create a break – a pause in the project and a revitalizing period of Rest and Relaxation for your team. You need a bit of distance for objectivity and you need to be fresh to have the energy to make the changes.

Once you have this, you need to gather the facts and communicate the situation to your stakeholders.

Evaluate the Situation

With the facts available, you need to work calmly with your team to evaluate the situation:

  • What is good that you need to keep?
  • What stinks, that you need to replace?
  • What can you fix to make work well?
  • What are the controls you can assert to keep your project on track?

Give your team responsibility, and lead with confidence and optimism. A failing project will have demotivated your people, so stay positive and recognize positive contributions and every step the team takes in the right direction. Also, see failures as learning steps.

Look for quick wins that will allow you to frequently recognize and celebrate baby steps. Once you have your team fully engaged, look for ways to extend this to your stakeholders.

Finally, it’s time to undertake a thorough risk review to reassess threats to your project and your plans to address them.

Steady your Project

A steady project is about solid relationships. Work on maintaining morale, confirming and improving processes, and building confidence in the team’s capabilities: confidence from your stakeholders, yourself, and from the team themselves.

Regularly meet to review priorities, re-jig work allocations, and work through issues and problems that are arising. Gradually build up a new working process, and – if needed – a new plan.

Rebuild Your Project

Work at your plan steadily, constantly refining your processes and strengthening your team. Keep in effective contact with your stakeholders, using a communications plan to ensure you leave no one out.

Maintain Your Project

By now, your processes should work, so make start to optimize for efficiency as well as efficacy. Conduct internal checkpoints and lessons-learned reviews. And now, also invite external review.

Present this to your team as a show of confidence and a chance to take your project to a higher level of delivery still.

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I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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