If project failure is both expected and predictable, then having a recovery plan in play from the start is good governance.

There are many, many reasons that projects can fail, and as we discussed in last month’s article 10 Reasons Projects Fail, business leaders and IT executives know that it is both expected and largely predictable that many projects will go off the rails.

Poor governance, immature leadership, inadequate scope control, and the absence of a successful delivery culture within the organisation are just some of the contributors to more than two-thirds of failures against standard KPIs of delivering on time, on budget, and to quality standards.

It’s all well and good to expect that most projects will fail in some way, shape and form. It’s what organisations do when a project is heading off the rails that is important to setting the project back on track. That’s where having a recovery plan ready and waiting can deliver serious value.

So what should a recovery plan include and how should it be executed?

Sack the Project Manager – Or should you?

Unfortunate as it is, the first option that is often considered is a blunt instrument: Sack the Project Manager.  This lacks a certain sophistication and will not necessarily address the root cause of why a project is failing. Simply putting a new face into the mix without first understanding and addressing the underlying issues will not recover the project.

The first step to getting back on track is investigative: Why is the project in trouble in the first place? With the right insight and knowledge comes the opportunity to make the right decisions. Investing the time and effort in a targeted assurance review is a critical step in understanding the root cause of problems in your project. An assurance review will give you information about where the cracks or crevices in your projects lie, so how do you use this to the best advantage of the project?

Sadly, our experience is that most of the project assurance becomes shelf-ware and the project manager is sacked anyway. A series of reports left to gather dust – no matter how insightful – will not advance the cause of the project.

These insights need to be considered, respected, and brought to life and the best results will come if it is done holistically (and not by a series of unrelated actions) and via a separate team. Your project team needs to keep the project moving, even if it is in a suboptimal state, and the additional resources can execute recovery.

And that means there is need for a dedicated recovery plan. So what is a ‘recovery plan’ and how does it differ from a project plan?

The purpose of a recovery plan

A recovery plan differs from a typical project plan in four key areas: Purpose, content, governance, and personnel. The project recovery plan is not aimed at delivering the project, per se. The existing project will have its own scope, plan and benefits it is aiming to achieve.

The recovery plan instead will be focused on getting the existing project back on track. Its sole reason for being will be moving the existing project from one that is failing to one that is now set up for success.

Let’s look at the Recovery Plan in more detail:

Content – What should a Recovery Plan include?

The project recovery activities contained within the project recovery plan will largely be dictated by the findings and recommendations that stem from the initial assurance review or a related investigation.

They will not necessarily be related to actually delivering the project and will be dictated by what is needed to steer the project back on a course to success. For example, a key recommendation may be to reform the governance model of the project or establish and deploy a more agile methodology for the project.

Often these activities can occur in parallel to the project as it continues to deliver – even if in a suboptimal state – to maintain momentum. Alternately, it may be ‘everyone out of the pool’ until things are fixed. There are no hard and fast rules: it will be a judgment call as to what is the best approach overall for the project.

Governance – who is commissioning the work?

The sponsor or sponsors of the project recovery plan may vary from organisation to organisation. It may be the existing sponsor, the PMO, the overarching change body or perhaps the CEO direct. It will not necessarily be the existing project governance model that is overseeing the execution of the project recovery plan. This will depend upon how your organisation is structured and what the issues are.

What is most critical is the recovery plan and execution has adequate support and sponsorship to drive through the required project saving changes. The recovery project should be governed like any other with deliverables, timelines, paths of escalation and budgets.

Personnel –who should be executing the recovery plan?

Recovering a project often requires a different approach to running a project in BAU. We hold a strong view that the project recovery needs to be treated as a separate initiative to the execution of the project to ensure it has the right focus and also has the right skill set.

As such, a separate, small team is often the optimal way forward. Setting up a dedicated team with the sole focus to plan and execute the required recovery activities will ensure it has the right focus and best chance of success. The project can then be handed back over to the delivery team once the project is back on an even keel.

Expect the best, but plan for the worst

It’s a well-established mantra, but there is a reason to expect the best but plan for the worst. Successful project delivery is an inexact science that continues to challenge all organisations. Get it right and you can unlock your company’s potential. Get it wrong and the loss of money, focus and momentum can have significant impacts to your operations and your on-going success.

Having a pathway that enables your failing projects to be recovered, via the establishment and execution of project recovery plans, is critical weapon in the arsenal of all successful project delivery organisations.

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Want to talk to us about developing recovery plans for your projects? Contact us here or call 02 9098 6300.

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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 ...