CXO

Dealing with cursed projects

Everyone loves to gripe about a cursed project, but what can be done to rescue it? Learn more about rescuing problem projects from the scrap heap.


Developers can drive themselves crazy fretting over a past project disaster. It's easy to wallow in failure, but spending too long obsessing over problems can cause you to lose a positive mindset. You may even end up polluting the team atmosphere, which will destroy your chances of turning the next runaway project around and making it a success.

Maintaining a positive force while seeking alternatives
When too many things go wrong, team members’ natural inclination is to become very negative, magnifying every project misstep. Project managers can avoid this trap with the following methods:
  • Keep your cool with the project team, even if you get flak from management. Project managers truly shine when they run interference with management.
  • Solicit suggestions to improve the project direction from team members. Sometimes it’s too easy to get locked up in corporate product development processes and overlook the input of the people who are actually doing the work.
  • Elicit feedback from the team concerning missteps throughout the project life cycle.
  • Document the feedback. This documentation is not ammunition for a witch-hunt; instead, it illuminates patterns the project followed to “cursed” status.
  • Examine patterns that lead to the missteps and failures. Use this information to work with the team and develop alternatives.
  • Have a life outside of work that you can focus on when projects go through rough spots. Encourage team members to exercise, volunteer, enjoy hobbies, and anything else that will clear their minds of the project for a while.

Take the reigns
Project managers are often in the best position to help a team see the light and explore new directions when team members see a project as cursed. Some ways project managers can take the lead in rectifying issues include:
  • Pull the load when working through issues that require resources outside the project team. This is another opportunity where project managers may shine, because it enables developers and other members of the team to do their jobs.
  • Make sure you have a formal project plan. While instituting processes in a previously unruly project can be laborious, planning takes the project in a new direction, thus exorcising the curse.

Being proactive is always a better route than being reactive. Chances are, you won’t find a project plan of any sort if you trace the origins of the project’s “curse.”

Going to bat for team members
When they encounter problems, project managers must go to bat for the team and buy the necessary time to get back on track. We all work under deadlines for delivering products. If the deadlines do not allow the project to get back on track, potential compromises include:
  • An interim product release with critical functionality enabled.
  • Extending the project schedule.
  • Getting more resources for the project. While throwing more resources at a troubled project can stir up its own issues, there are times when more resources are warranted. For example, additional experts can offer advice to developers who may not be experienced in the technology.

Reviewing/revising the project plan
While many external and political issues can spawn unrealistic project plans, scheduling must be reviewed when projects are cursed. If a project constantly misses deliverable dates, it’s time to review those dates against the reality of the current project situation. While those higher up the management ladder may still drive for a tight schedule, project management must identify the following key points:
  • Stumbling blocks where the team keeps going over the same cliff.
  • How the team expects to make the deliverables dates. When a troubled project consistently misses dates, credibility is compromised and it is important to demonstrate a plan for the renewed project.

Lifting the curse
Being proactive is the best way to fight a curse that overtakes a project. Instituting a plan and best practices that extend the project timeline are the best place to start, but you may find other compromises along the way to bring the renewed project back on track.

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