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Turning Around Struggling Projects

  • April 06, 2017 12:24 PM
    Message # 4719678

    Once of the first operational items owners need to get into order when looking at an exit are the business' processes and systems. How well defined these projects are and the quality of their subsequent execution is key to extracting value out of the business.

    It is not uncommon for companies to struggle with implementing these big projects, especially systems projects. Sprawling and complicated projects are difficult to execute and the cost of fixing them now will far outweigh the cost of failure.

    If you have a project go off course, how should you handle it? How do you avoid it in the first place? Here are a few tips we have used to get projects back on track:

     Turning it around

    1. Re-set the goal-line: Take a balanced view of the priorities as they stand today. If the timeline is the most important thing, evaluate how to reduce scope or add resources. If a business result is most important, be flexible with your timeline and bolster key areas. If it's a tricky design issue, bring in a specialist. It all depends on the project and the business priorities now - not the expectations that were established at the beginning of the project.
    2. Bring in an unbiased perspective: Someone who does not have a stake in the history of the project should assess the process and the status of the project. Have them provide input on three main areas: governance, management, and execution. If the issues seem to be with the design or architecture, then assess those as well. 
    3. Use exception-based project management: Manage to the items that are off-schedule or have critical issues. Meetings will not fix a floundering project, especially meetings on topics that are basically fine. Keep the PMO lean and predictable. Have a well-communicated project plan that is updated on a consistent schedule. Keep an issues log which staff update as needed and the PMO reviews every week. None of this is hard in and of itself, but being disciplined about it often is.
    4. Repair the relationships: If PMs are distrustful of one another they need to get on the same page immediately. They cannot fight for the rest of the project and expect to be successful. If they can't get on the same page, a change needs to come from the top. Not doing so will sow mistrust among the project team, people will take sides, and their decision-making will lean more towards self-preservation than successful delivery.

    Avoiding failure in the first place

    1. Establish a steering committee: This should be comprised of senior stakeholders and at least one outside expert. They monitor the project on a regular basis and have decision-making authority and budgetary control over major items. They are ultimately accountable for the results.
    2. Don't skimp on project management: A lot of projects try to save cost by running a lean PMO. Lean PMOs are, in general, a good thing but many projects go too far. On difficult projects the lead PM needs as much hands-on management time as possible. Add a PMO analyst, add junior PMs for the largest subordinate workstreams. Don't make the lead PM be engulfed in day-to-day admin work and don't make them a "working" project manager - big projects needed a dedicated PM.
    3. Periodic project QA: Do at least a quarterly review with an outside, unbiased expert. They shouldn't get too close to the team, but it should be same person throughout the project. They should report to the project sponsor and their written assessments should be shared with the steering committee.
    4. Avoid the blame game: Most projects go off the rails because one or more issues are hidden for too long. They aren't raised high enough fast enough and ultimately become either the long pole in the tent or negatively impact other workstreams. Creating an environment where someone who raises an issue isn't worried about taking a hit, and where workers are comfortable disagreeing (constructively) in meetings is critical.

    With a steady hand and a disciplined project manager, most struggling projects can be turned around. When in doubt, bring in help. The cost of getting things on track now are far less than the cost of Day 1 turmoil or a disastrous delivery.

    Read a Deeper Analysis Here

    Do you have a struggling project?

    Call us today: (203) 539-1724 or email us at info@ronanconsultinggroup.com

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