3 steps to take when your project isn’t going well

In an ideal world, all our projects are on-time and under budget. The reality is that is rarely the case. More often, a project runs over on budget or timeline. For the nature of this blog, I’m not going to go into all the reasons why there can be budget or timeline overages. I want to focus on techniques for managing the impact. These very much tie into my approach to project management (you can learn more in this post).

  1. Communicate – At the first sign of a problem, starting communicating up and down the project chain. You want to make sure the project team are aware of the additional stress and constraints the stakeholders are feeling. This keeps them moving towards the end, but prepares them for some of the more difficult conversations they may have with stakeholders. Also important is having an honest conversation with your stakeholders and business sponsors. You need to make sure that everyone is on the same page. It is not about point blame, but rather collectively determining the next steps and discussing remediation options. This might include reducing the scope, or increasing resources or budget.
  2. Be positive about your successes – When projects take a turn for the worst, it is easy to dwell on what’s going on, focusing solely on how to fix it. Make sure you are positive about the successes. These may be as simple as just developing the use cases, or maybe the team has started implementation and development. Each moment of time spent on the project increases the project outputs, and creates positive moments. Leverage these to keep morale up and keep stakeholders engaged with what has been accomplished. It helps if you’ve split your project into small, incremental releases. It’s harder, but still possible when your project has more nebulous intermittent releases.
  3. Keep team moving towards some release date – Project crunch mode is a very stressful time for all those involved. When those culminate, you will want the team to regroup to determine what can be delivered in the shortest amount of time. Ideally, this has some, if not all, of the functionality that is most critical to the business users. You are always better off if you get something in the hands of the business users, as quickly as you can.

Murphy’s law definitely exists in project management. If it can happen, it probably will at some point. I find that it’s much easier to manage these rough times if I communicate (almost to the point of over-communication), be positive about the small successes the team has and make sure we have a plan to deliver something. It helps if the things you deliver are aligned to the stakeholder’s critical requirements. Most importantly, do not shy away from talking about your project issues. That just builds resentment and further uncertainty.

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