How can a business re-set a project to bring it back into alignment with strategy?

It’s a pretty rare phenomenon that a project progresses from inception through to implementation without encountering issues along the way. However, there are some red flags that signal a project is more than just encountering its share of challenges but that in fact it is starting to fail.

Chronic cost over-runs, continual scope creep, repeated missed delivery milestones, poor project moral and project misalignment are just some of the indicators that a project is on the road to failing to deliver any of its originally stated benefits.

Projects typically show signs of failing when governance isn’t robust enough or when a project has a protracted rollout – it’s not uncommon for long-term projects to lose sight of the requirement to align to business strategy or for your teams to experience project fatigue.

For a project to fall into the ‘fail’ category, however, the issues confronting the project are significant and require special attention to get them back on track. While it may be that shutting down a project is the most obvious course of action, it is a difficult process and may not be the right decision.

An alternative? Resetting the project to ensure success. Let’s explore some of the areas that should demand attention when turning a project around.

Review and redefine the governance

A failing project will invariably have issues within the existing governance structure. The project cannot proceed to a successful outcome unless these issues are addressed and a fit for purpose governance structure is put in place.

But to achieve that, there is often need for a frank and open discussion at the right level, be it the steering committee or at the project board, to identify the issues and fix them. This can mean radical surgery such as:

  • Replacing sponsors or project managers
  • Scrapping existing steering committees
  • Re-establishing governance forums at a more senior level
  • Redefining the terms of reference

Either way, the project manager should not proceed with the project until they are comfortable the right governance is in place with suitably experienced and committed personnel who have the bandwidth to execute their roles. In our experience, this type of “project surgery” benefits from the outside perspective of independent facilitators who are able to help identify fundamental issues within a project without bias or blame.

Re-connect with the team

There is a high probability the team working on a failing project will be suffering significant project fatigue, quite possibly be disengaged and jaded due to their ‘brand’ being linked to a failing project, which is often very public.

Re-energising a team and convincing them that the project re-set is going to work is vital to turn it around. The project manager and sponsor should ensure they:

  • Initiate one-on-one discussion with key team members
  • Explain clearly the new approach and actively solicit feedback where appropriate
  • Implement value-add suggestions.

It may also require some team members being moved off the project if they cannot get out of a negative mindset or they lack the required skill set for the future. It is also a good idea to stage a kick-off event to signify that the project is under new command and is now set to deliver.

Address the top issues

While it may sound simplistic, no project reset has a chance of success if the main showstoppers have not been identified and adequately addressed. There is a reason that a project is failing and until the issues are identified, acknowledged and remediated, the project simply cannot be set upon a successful path.

To help facilitate this, a project re-set should be accompanied by an independent project review to flesh out all issues, have them ranked in order of importance and impacts and have them addressed accordingly. Simply replacing the project manager for example (which is a typical knee jerk reaction) will not turn the project around if there are underlying issues that are not being acknowledged and resolved.

Have patience

This is a special plea to senior management. Project delivery is difficult at the best of times, let alone when a project has gone off the rails. Patience and suitable support from the executive go a long way to ensuring that new plans being put into place can be realised.

This will give the new governance and project team the time to address issues, re-set the team and set the project back on the right track. It will not happen overnight but it may not happen at all if the team is not given some additional breathing space.

Projects can and will fail. But they can be saved and turned around to achieve successful outcomes with the right attention to a few key areas. The above list is not exhaustive but is hopefully a good starting point if your organisation is embarking on the journey to turn around a failing project.

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To speak to our team about how we can help your business deliver better projects, please contact us.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...