Something Wrong With Your Project?

Whatever your project is, we're betting it's not going to be as difficult as this one was

Whatever your project is, we’re betting it’s not going to be as difficult as this one was

To a large corporation, a typical project might be anything. It could be a lender moving to more efficient automated credit-decision platform. To a manufacturer, it could be a push to reduce warranty claims by 25% by increasing quality of finished goods. To a retail business, it could be a drive to reduce idle time on all shifts by revamping their scheduling processes.

To a small business, a project could also be many things, albeit on a much smaller scale. Maybe it’s the relocation of the business to another building, whether that location is across town or in another state. It could be the adoption of a sales tracking system for the sales force, for the first time ever. Maybe it’s the development and launch of a website. It could be an acquisition of a company that’s gone wrong and now needs to be in turnaround mode. Or, for a government contractor, it could be the requirement that the company hire enough people to triple in size in the next 90 days so that that it can fulfill a just-awarded contract.

Whatever it is, someone needs to be in charge of the project, and it needs to be successful.

What happens when your project is floundering and is in trouble? When it’s way behind, or way over budget or it’s obvious that it’s failing completely in terms of the project goals?

First, don’t panic. A good manager can manage a crisis, but no one can manage chaos.


1. Be Disciplined and Methodical: There are various process maps you can use to save a project.Regardless of the technique or methodology that you choose, don’t attempt to solve the project’s problems until you have an understanding of their causes. By all means, take measures to stop the bleeding as an interim step until you’ve effectively identified root causes.

2. Demand Proof: Talking to everyone involved and reading every email and every scrap of paper related to the project is great start, but what if someone is fudging the numbers or painting a rosier picture than reality? For select documents, like staff hours, project schedule and project budget, confirm that they are reasonably accurate independently. Which brings us to the next issue…

3. Your New Project Manager Should Be an Independent: Whether you hire a consultant like Sareen and Associates or have someone in another part of your business lead your project recovery effort, they should be an independent third party. Having a close peer of the Project Manager, the Project Manager’s immediate superior or one of their subordinates jump in to help is unlikely to be successful.

4. Change Leadership or Change the Process: At the most basic level, projects most often fail because either the project manager is not up to the task or the project management process is preventing them from succeeding. A good project manager controls time, scope, cost and quality on a project. If they don’t control at least two of these and are able to strongly influence all four, then they are likely to fail. Conversely, if they control all of these but the project is headed off a cliff, you probably need to switch project leadership. If the process is flawed, this is almost always due to one ot two reasons – micromanagement by the boss, or outsized influence by one of the departments or individuals in the company, and that department or individual is busy trying to make sure their parochial interests are always being addressed, and in those activities, they are effectively sabotaging the project.

5. Increase Communication: When you’re trying to identify problems with a project, it helps to increase communication within the team. Schedule and require participation in regular meetings – daily, if necessary., You should also increase the frequency of status reports to key parties, such as the client, the sponsor and key stakeholders, even if the reporting is informal.

6. Be Brutally Honest With Yourself: There’s always a requirement for optimism in every situation when you’re a small business owner, but good leaders are also honest to themselves and to others about the current state of a project. Depending upon how far behind the project truly is, consider reducing scope or resetting the schedule. Failing to do so may doom the project and the project team to yet another failure – one from which they may not recover.

7. Eating an Elephant: Arun Sareen, the president of Sareen and Associates, is very fond of asking this question: “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer, of course, is: “One bite at a time”. After you’ve planned your recovery, be sure to start with small goals and shorter milestones, reviewing the project’s progress frequently to make sure the conservative short-term goals are being met. This enables the project team members to once again practice working together as an efficient team before they have to tackle the larger, more challenging deliverables of the project.

5 thoughts on “Something Wrong With Your Project?

  1. DC Shirt Emporium wrote:

    This is very useful, thanks.

  2. It's too much wrote:

    Every project we’ve ever done at our mid-size company has gone down in flames and then had to be resurrected.

  3. Vincent wrote:

    I’m going to remember that thing about eating the elephant.

  4. BallerinDC wrote: could have used this advise

  5. Slim wrote:

    It’s surprising to think of something like that.

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