If you find yourself with a project that is underperforming or overrunning time and cost, it is possible to steer a project back on track if the right steps are taken.

In 2011 Victoria’s Ombudsman handed down one of the most damning assessments of public sector IT project governance in Australia’s history, noting total cost over-runs of $1.44 billion, extensive delays and a general failure to actually deliver.

The report highlighted the systemic failure to respond to critical measures indicating that the projects were not on track.

This is a very public example of an all too familiar litany of high profile project failures. However it serves to highlight the need to set projects up for success from the outset, or at the very least understand when it’s time to bring in project recovery expertise.

If you find yourself with a project that is not performing, engaging a project recovery team early – before the horse has bolted – can ensure projects can be successfully delivered before cost and time overruns cause the promised outcomes to evaporate.

Aim to Set up for Success But Know When You’re in Trouble

Regular health checks can provide high-value returns by evaluating the project’s progress and where recommendations are made, by ensuring they are implemented properly. Too often findings from health checks are ignored or watered down during implementation.

However, depending on how far behind a project is or if overruns are emerging, a health check may not be enough intervention and corrective action must be taken.

So when is the right time to bite the bullet and call in a project recovery team?

Indicators You Need Project Recovery Support

Quay’s consultants are regularly called into help get projects back on track and in our experience, there are some key indicators that should red flag the need for project recovery support.

Whilst not exhaustive below is a list of circumstances that if present may indicate time to consider engaging a recovery project team:

  • Two Health Checks performed and no improvement
  • Lack of clearly defined benefits
  • Organisation is not ready for the change (lack of Change Management)
  • Poor Governance (roles and responsibilities and decision-making process unclear)
  • Repeatedly missed milestones and deliverables
  • Constant ambiguity about the requirements
  • Stakeholders are not engaged or communicated with
  • Little to no evidence of risk management
  • Out of date schedules that no longer support the project
  • Budgets that continually overrun against deliverables

The good news is that the recovery process offers a high rate of success and can save businesses substantial time and money.

Project Recovery

There are a number of fundamental guiding principles to follow to help ensure any project recovery exercise undertaken will be successful:

Don’t reinvent the wheel: Leverage the significant amount of work already done by previous health checks, reviews or project artifacts.

Create momentum: Seek to deliver value quickly

Existing expertise: Use the expertise of the team to correctly assess and develop a fit-for-purpose, pragmatic recovery plan, rather than relying on standardised diagnostic tools and outputs.

Outcomes focussed: Ensure all activities are directly related to the achievement of the success-based outcomes.

Success Focused Recovery

Asking “what does success look like for the project?” and “what corrective actions are required?” go a long way to jumpstarting the process. Once the guiding principles are in place it is important that the recovery team follow the next steps to ensure the project recovery is a success.

Identify ‘quick wins’ and implement them: Early identification of benefits and delivering quick wins can change the energy of a project and its team from failures, exhaustion and disillusion to being re-energised with successes.

Project Governance – Sponsorship and Steering Committees: A review of the governance structure will quickly inform you if the project governance arrangements meet best practice, are fit for purpose and if the project is setup for success.

How ready is the business to embrace the change?  Assessing business change readiness will give the organisation great insight into the level of engagement with the business. Is the business ready to embrace the change? Do they know what success looks like? have they been consulted on their needs? And do they understand the immediate and long term impact and benefits? What change management strategies and plans are in place?

Project Artefacts:  Start by reviewing the project artefacts including schedule, requirements, test planning, budget, health checks, resource plans, and risk and issues management. This confirms the current state baseline of the project and the status or prior recommendations and agreed actions.

Steering a project back on track

This is by no means an exhaustive list as there are a number of activities that must be undertaken to ensure project recovery is a success. What’s important to note is that it is possible to steer a project back on track if the right steps are taken. The objective is to ensure that the project will deliver the benefits to the business as originally envisaged.

Bringing in outside expertise at the right time can be the difference between successfully turning a project around and a failing project.

For more information about project recovery or to discuss an assessment of your current project issues, please contact us on 02 9098 6300.

As project specialists, we develop fit-for-purpose strategy.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams 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 ...