It’s not uncommon for projects to fail, however having a recovery plan ready to go from the start is just good governance.
There are numerous reasons that projects can fail. Business and tech leaders know that it’s both likely and largely predictable that projects can go off the rails at some point. Poor governance, inexperienced leadership, inadequate scope control, and the absence of a successful delivery culture are just some of the reasons that projects fail to deliver on time, to budget, or to expected outcomes.
Experienced project managers know that without effective stewardship from the executive or a lack of buying from stakeholders, there is a high chance that projects can – and will – fail in some way, shape, or 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 when 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?
All too often, the first instrument for getting a project back on track is a blunt one: Sack the PM. Unfortunately, this lacks sophistication and won’t necessarily address the root cause of why a project is failing. Simply putting a new face on an old problem without first understanding and addressing the underlying project issues will generally not turn a project toward success.
The first step to getting back on the right path is investigative: Can we identify why the project is in trouble?
With the right insight and knowledge comes the opportunity to make the decisions that are necessary to bring the focus back to first principles. Investing the time and effort in a targeted assurance review can be a critical step in understanding the root cause of problems in a project. An assurance review will give the business information about where the cracks or crevices in inflight projects lie.
Sadly, our experience is that some of the project assurance attached to a project becomes shelfware – and the project manager is sacked anyway. When assurance is left in the dust, reports – no matter how insightful – will not advance the cause of the project.
Alternatively, if project insights are considered, respected, and acted upon, the best results will come when it’s delivered holistically and by a separate team. The project team needs to be able to keep the project moving, even in a suboptimal state, to
But here’s the thing: Project 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 a need for a dedicated recovery plan.
Define 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:
1) 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 delivering the project but instead, 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.
2) 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.
3) 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 saying but there is a reason the expect the best while planning for the worst. Having a pathway that enables your failing projects to be recovered, via the establishment and execution of project recovery plans, is a critical weapon in the arsenal of all successful project delivery organisations.
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 ongoing success.
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