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Should I Rescue My Failing Project?
By Jason Becker

Some may be confused when I pose this question. After all, it seems counter-intuitive to think in terms of whether or not to save a troubled project because Project Management Professionals are constantly challenged to find new and creative ways to guide projects to success.

As a Project Recovery Specialist, I am constantly reminded of the perils of attempting to save the wrong project for the wrong reasons. While the reasons one might choose to attempt to save a project are relatively simple, the reasons one might choose not to save a project can be much more complex.
When considering whether or not to rescue a floundering project one must ponder several factors:

  1. The level of importance the ownership organization places on the project
  2. The alignment of the project to strategic goals or business objectives
  3. The level of commitment the ownership organization demonstrates to project success
  4. The motivation of the ownership organization for considering project rescue

Let’s delve into these one by one:

The level of importance the ownership organization places on the project

This question is critical because there would be little reason to go through a Project Recovery process for a project that is of little importance to an organization. Although it seems like a simple question, it can be difficult to answer because the Project Sponsor will always convey to you that the project in question is of critical importance to his/her organization. The previous statement is not meant to infer that your Project Sponsor is intentionally misleading you. It simply means that the Project Sponsor has an emotional or professional attachment to a project and will have difficulty seeing the “big picture”. This is where a good Project Manager brings experience to bear in stepping a level above the details and beginning to relate this project to the other project in the portfolio and begin to determine the true level of importance to the overall organization.

The alignment of the project to strategic goals or business objectives

Determining the answer to this question will help you begin to discover whether or not you are going to get the support necessary to successfully recover a troubled project. When a project is poorly aligned with strategic or business goals, it is almost a certainty that you will have difficulty in gathering the necessary support to successfully rescue the project.

Another factor here is one of financial viability. A project may have begun with certain Return On Investment requirements and undertaking a Project Recovery effort may undermine the fundamental reasons the project was undertaken in the first place. Knowing the original success criteria is of critical importance when considering Project Recovery.

The level of commitment the ownership organization demonstrates to project success

Simply knowing that the project is well-aligned with strategic goals and, therefore, is of importance to an organization is not enough to make a decision on whether or not to proceed with Project Recovery. You need to ensure that there is a true commitment on the part of the ownership organization to rescue the project. Project Recovery is typically expensive, time-consuming, and somewhat painful. Knowing this, there is little reason to undertake an expensive, lengthy, and difficult process unless an organization is committed to project success at the very highest levels.

The motivation of the ownership organization for considering project rescue

Finally, understanding why an organization wants to rescue a project is of critical importance as well. Someone with an emotional attachment to a project may have a need to rescue the project as a way of “saving face” or meeting a financial bonus goal. These aren’t necessarily bad reasons to want to rescue a project. However, because Project Recovery typically requires a great deal of support across multiple business verticals, you may find that while the Sponsor will give you unlimited support, the other key players have little interest in saving the project because there isn’t anything in it for them personally.

In Closing

Simply because you can rescue a troubled project or because you have the budget to attempt Project Recovery doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good idea. It is important to treat Project Recovery as if it is new project with a personality all of it’s own vs. thinking of it as an extension of the original project. If you think of it in this way, you are much more likely to make sound and reliable decisions about how and when you should attempt a recovery effort.

Jason Becker, PMP, CPM, has 14 years of experience in designing, developing, and deploying Enterprise-Level software products for the Banking, Manufacturing, Real Estate, and Information Technology industries. He is an expert in Project Management surrounding Software Products Development with an emphasis on disciplined delivery techniques and visionary software development methodologies. He is an experienced leader with skills in IT PMO setup and management and strategic IT projects alignment. Jason’s website can be found at http://axisitconsulting.com/ and he can be contacted at jason.becker@axisitconsulting.com.

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