Dealing with Troubled Projects

Every organization will have to deal with projects that are under-performing, over budget, behind schedule — in a word troubled ! We identify 2 very specific things that organizations need to do in response. The first is immediate and the later is a more systematic response to prevent projects in the future from becoming troubled.

1. Deal with Troubled Projects Head On

When a project gets in trouble, too often, the first tendency is to extend the deadline and spend more money on it in hopes of getting it finished. This is a bad idea, especially if the situation occurs late in the project’s life cycle.

Ideally, early on, the PMO leader should develop a basic list of conditions that will trigger an investigation into whether a project is in trouble. Usually, a “consensus” on trouble inevitably will emerge, but it often occurs too late in the process.

The primary means of addressing troubled projects are:

  • Re-scope: Assess if there is value that can be derived from the project within the agreed upon time frame of the project. We’re not advocating just cutting scope and declaring victory here — we recommend that you make the assessment and then evaluate the ‘new project’ as you would any new proposal and determine where it fits in the portfolio.
  • Reschedule: Determine if the timing of the initiative is simply incorrect. Some projects are in trouble because they are hampered by other dependencies in the organization and the timing is just not right for the project to proceed successfully. Resources can be better deployed elsewhere until the initiative is ready to start back up.
  • Restructure: The wrong people may be on or in charge of the project. Clearly, this is a delicate political issue to navigate in any organization but it is one that a PMO leader needs to have a stomach for.
  • Cancel: A highly underutilized option that I believe has great effect. It requires honest and strong leadership. The skill of a PMO leader exercising this option is to pivot towards the value in redeploying organizational resources and bringing to an end a fruitless endeavor.

2. Build Project Management Teams that Have the Skills to Lead Projects and Not Simply Track them.

If PMO leaders really want to establish a value proposition of being able to help deliver projects with the right outcomes more quickly, then they need to ensure the project managers assigned to lead (not just track) the delivery effort have the right skills. Project Managers need to have a competency in these 3 areas:

Scope Management: Truly managing the scope of a project takes project managers who actually understand at least something about what they are delivering.

Time Management: Failure to proactively manage the schedule to deliver the product of the project by the deadline is a failure to show competency.

Budget Management:  Determine when and if adding more money to a project can effectively deliver the value early, or at least on time. Determine where the real financial risks are, and either mitigate, or at least communicate, them early enough so that management can influence the outcomes.

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