Managing Projects When They Run into Difficulty
In our last article, we examined 7 symptoms of faltering projects, ranging from missing project milestones to unresolved project issues. An experienced project manager will know what symptoms to look for, and will act to correct the course of the project immediately. Here are seven tactics that can be used to get your faltering project back on course.
1. Analyse and Understand the Issue
While it is important to act immediately, the correct solution can only be found if the issue is understood. You’ll need to take time to analyse the issue. Speak to the project team and ask for ideas about the underlying cause and how to solve the problem. This will help to engage your people in the resolution.
Whatever you do, make sure that you focus on the issue and don’t let finger pointing start. A culture of blame builds an environment in which bad news is hidden and poor performance festers.
2. Take Stock of the Original Plan
Go back to the original plan, review the business case and make certain it remains valid. If the solution to the issue adds extra cost or time to the original plan, it may be that the whole project needs to be revised. Rarely is it the case that the project needs to be cancelled, but you may need to reconsider scope.
Ask if there is anything in the original plan that can be removed, or if activities need to be added to get back on track. Are there tasks that can be reprioritised?
3. Consider Your Human Resources
It could be that you have allocated your human resources incorrectly. Ask if the right people are in the right roles. Consider the talents of team members and redelegate work to those more suited. It may also be possible to reallocate work to ensure that work is spread more evenly, or you may be able to switch people from the work they are doing to help with time-critical tasks.
If you do need to add people to the project, make sure that they have the skill sets to contribute effectively.
4. Discuss the Issues with the Customer
Communicate with your customer! Early dialogue is critical. There should be no surprises – good or bad. The customer may be able to provide solutions such as redesignation of project schedules or readdressing the project scope.
5. Review Project Processes
Often, how people are working is as problematic as what they are working on. Gather your project team together and brainstorm ideas to do things differently.
6. Review Project Dependencies
Project dependencies are often scheduled in a linear fashion (e.g. Stage 2 only starts when ‘x’ has been delivered). Reviewing these dependencies later in the project often leads to the realisation that some dependencies aren’t as fixed as previously thought. If this is the case, you should review whether rescheduling will have a positive affect on the delivery of project stages and the project completion.
7. Resort to Overtime
As a last resort, consider if overtime will resolve the issue. If the project has been delayed because of unforeseeable and unavoidable circumstances – such as weather, sickness, late delivery of supplies, etc. – a short burst of overtime may suffice to bring the project back to its planned timetable.
However, if you are considering overtime, you should make sure that there are no underlying project issues that will remain despite the extra hours that your team put in. You should also beware of creating a workplace where burnout becomes an issue – too much overtime could do more damage than good to your project.
If a project hits issues, it is essential that the project manager manages effectively. That means plenty of communication, soliciting feedback, and exploring possible solutions. The manager’s task is to keep the team motivated and keep the customer in the loop.
It is crucial to act early when problems occur, but not to act in haste. Careful analysis and a breathing space will ensure that the best solution is developed, and the project gets back on course.
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