Alternatives for a project rescue

If you decide your project is troubled, you should identify alternatives for turning it around. Here are some of the strategies you can take.

Over the past few weeks, we've been discussing how to rescue troubled projects. This includes validating that the project is really in trouble, creating a recovery project and assessing the troubled project. After the initial project assessment, the project manager should identify alternatives for turning the project around. There are a couple of options that should always be on the table.

Stop the project. If a project rescue is required, the team should always leave open the possibility that the project should just be cancelled. There are many reasons that cancellation may be the best approach. The product being produced may have missed its window of opportunity in the market, the team may not have the right skills and the organization may not have the right people available to replace them, or the sponsoring organization may have more important priorities now. Of course, a big reason for cancellation is that the business proposition of the project may not be valid any more.

Let the project continue as is. In some cases, the sponsor may determine that the cost of a project rescue is not worth pursuing. For example, a project may be projected to complete at a budget 50% higher than estimated. However, the assessment may determine that the project cost was underestimated. In this case, the sponsor is forced to accept the higher cost of the project, cancel the project or scope back the deliverables. In another example, a project may take 50% longer than originally estimated. However, the client may decide to live with the later deadline and decline rescue intervention.

Let the project continue with adjustments.

In addition to these standard options, the following general alternatives will apply to many (but not all) troubled projects.

  • Reducing scope. This is very common for a recovery project. At this point, you may feel that you need to focus on the minimum solution that will meet the client's basic needs and then extend the solution later.  
  • Adding resources. Adding resources may be required to complete the project within a reasonable timeframe. This may increase the project budget.
  • Paying overtime/bonuses. You may recommend that the current team work paid overtime or be paid an incentive bonus to meet a new deadline.
  • Purchasing tools. You may need new tools to accelerate the schedule. These will usually cost money and you may have to invest in a learning curve.
  • Improving processes. Many of the root causes of project problems may need to be resolved through changes in the processes used to manage and execute the project.
  • Improving team dynamics. You may need to invest in team building activities to get the team working together (again). For instance, there may be friction between the client and the project team, and this situation needs to be resolved before the project can get fully on track.

There are usually many alternatives for rescuing a troubled project, and many of the above examples can be used in combination. For instance, you may recommend that more resources be placed on some critical components of the project, while other parts of the project are scoped back, and another part of the project is cancelled. Sometimes none of the options is particularly attractive. However, remember that you are not trying to get the project to complete within its original scope, deadline and budget. You are just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

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