How to Save Your Critical Project That Has Flown Off Track

Project failure can happen to even the most experienced managers, but it doesn’t have to. Often, there are warning signs that a project isn’t going to meet a deadline, or the assembled team will hit obstacles later on. Some managers may see these signals right before the project hits a dead end or the customer cancels. Unfortunately, many times the warning signs happen early on in its lifecycle and catch project managers unaware until it’s too late. Whether you’re a project manager or just a member of the work team, you can keep an eye out for hints that trouble is brewing. Project management should be shared by all the team and not just the one in charge.

Process-related vs. people-related risks

Warning signs can be separated into two categories: process-related and people-related. Process-related risks tend to include a lack of communication between teams about the project and subsequent documentation, inefficient scheduling and not having enough resources to complete the project. People-related risks include low support from leadership and stakeholders and the lack of employee and manager knowledge regarding the project.

Having one of these warning signs may not necessarily spell disaster for a project, but it can make it more difficult for the project to be a success. Closely monitoring each of these areas early on in the project lifecycle can help managers fix any of these issues and give leaders leverage if they need to ask for a deadline extension.

When the warning signs sit in that gray area, they go unnoticed 

Experts noted there are often many warning signs for a failed project, but complacency and procrastination can cause additional obstacles. However, staff shortages, mixed signals and unresolved issues are often the root problems of project failure.

Kim van Oorschot, one of the experts and an associate professor at BI Norwegian Business School, suggested managers focus not on the symptoms of project failure, but the underlying issues that cause the challenges in the first place. Whether it’s understaffing, low employee knowledge, receiving unclear information from the client or simply having the wrong manager in charge of the project, not overlooking these early signs can be the difference between a successful project and a failed one.

It may not be easy, but keeping common warning signs in mind at the beginning of a project can help professionals notice when things may go awry down the line.

You know something is wrong … now what do you do?

Most professionals have experienced a great project suddenly turning into a nightmare. With time lost, employees frustrated and the project halted, it can be easy to give up and blame each other. But things happen, and in these instances, all project managers can do is take the opportunity to get to the bottom of what’s going on and change tactics.

Here are three simple project management steps you can take to quickly turn a failing project back into a successful one:

  1. Understand what is wrong 

According to Time Management Ninja, putting the project in perspective can help teams to identify what may be hampering the project. Examining what is truly going wrong can give professionals an idea of how to move forward. TMN recommended professionals stay positive when reviewing the project’s various components, as being confident that the project can get back on track is important to its success.

  1. Focus on moving forward

Things happen, but dwelling on a situation can actually impede finding a solution. BCS, an information technology institute, suggested teams deliver a new plan and forget about the past. It can be easy to keep coming back to what had gone wrong, but doing so can drive up costs in lost productivity and wasted time.

Project managers should be vigilant in keeping the team on track to move forward by developing a frequent schedule to receive feedback. To get a project back on track does not necessarily mean giving it all available resources, which can increase costs, but on refocusing the entire team and anyone else involved.

  1. Get everyone on board

BCS advised ensuring the team is staying effective, which can be difficult with personality and communication differences, but making sure everyone is ready to implement a new plan is essential in moving forward.

Some of the most successful leaders in history have had to restructure their organizations’ teams to carry out a new plan. While it can be difficult to bring in an entirely new team, or to take an integral team member off the project, managers may need to make the hard decision if employees are unable to get beyond previous mistakes.

Get your team motivated on successfully carrying out the new plan by channeling any negative energy still lingering into getting things done.

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