Four steps to effective project management

Get that key project back on track.

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Summer is a perfect time of year to reflect on the current state of all the key projects that were approved in January. At this stage, you and your management team should have enough data to know if each initiative will successfully meet its objectives. You may already know there are projects in your organisation that are not positioned to succeed, yet they still receive funding and staff.

When you assess the current state of your projects, do you see any of these signs?

  • Critical issues keep opening up, but they're not getting resolved.

  • Project scope is constantly changing.

  • The project is consistently behind its plan, despite efforts to get it back on schedule.

  • Competing deliverables are distracting your attention.

If all of the above signs appear, it may be time to cut your losses and cut the project, or at least radically restructure it. You know better than anyone that throwing good money after the bad will not save the project because it doesn't address the root cause of the project's woes.

To determine a course of action, ask yourself the following questions about the project:

  • What can be salvaged?

  • What can be delivered with the time and budget that are left?

  • Do you have the right leadership in place to complete the project successfully?

  • Is the plan for the initiative sound and realistic?

  • Am I and my management team doing everything we can to support the initiative?

If some or all of the project can be salvaged and delivered on time and with the remaining budget, if the right leaders are present to steer the project, if the new plan is solid, and management will continue to support the project, the following four steps will help you regain control and deliver the revised project successfully. These steps are basic blocking and tackling, but the detail behind them, and more importantly the execution and focus the project team brings to the effort, will determine whether the project recovery effort will succeed.

1. Assess the situation

Get as much information about the current state of the project as possible. Use that data to make informed decisions about what needs to happen next. Don't be afraid if, at this stage, there are more questions than answers; that's normal. The key is to ask the right question to obtain as accurate a picture of the project's status as possible. The following questions address key data points you need to collect:

  • How critical is the delivery date?

  • What functionality is exactly required by the delivery date?

  • What has been completed and what is still outstanding?

  • How willing will people be to change scope, dates and budget?

The last question about change is critical because it touches on the people and political issues that are present in any project and any organisation. Even when faced with sure failure, people find it hard to change unless there is a direct benefit to them and their team. For recovery to have a chance, expectations need to change, especially the key stakeholders'.

When gathering data about the current state of the project, don't forget to ask the current team for their opinions on what went wrong. It can be easy to ignore their input since they're associated with the current failure. In fact, each individual can provide great insight into why the project arrived in its current state. Reach out to key team members and get their suggestions for correcting the situation.

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