Derailed projects: Developing and conducting the recovery plan

So you know you need to turn a project around, but how do you proceed once you've assessed the situation? The answer is planning and implementing your recovery plan. Here's your road map.

In the last article of this series on dealing with derailed projects, we covered a structured process you can use to assess troubled projects. In this installment, we'll focus on developing the recovery plan and conducting the recovery.

Project recovery: A three-part series
This is the final installment in a series of articles dealing with derailed projects.
Part one: "Getting derailed projects back on track"
Part two: "Derailed projects: Building an assessment plan"

Outline of the assessment report
Developing the recovery plan and conducting the recovery are highly influenced by the findings documented in the assessment report. Here is an outline of a typical assessment report:
  • Background
  • Sponsor
  • Charter
  • Trigger event
  • Assessment team members
  • Date of assessment
  • Scope of review
  • Key findings
  • Recommendations
  • Immediate action plans

When developing the assessment report, we analyzed the project plan according to these criteria:

Work breakdown structure (WBS)
  • Does one exist?
  • Does it allow adequate tracking and control of project?
  • Does each work package end with well-defined acceptance criteria?
  • Does each work package end with a physical deliverable?
  • Does the work include everything that we must do?
  • Did the project team assign each work package to a resource?

Network diagram
  • Does one exist?
  • Does the project team update and maintain it regularly?
  • Is it complete?
  • Does it enable the project team to make schedule forecasts?
  • Does it enable the project team to make resource forecasts?
  • Is there evidence of constant schedule slips?

  • Do resource histograms exist for each skill type?
  • Do estimates of resources seem accurate?

  • Earned value
  • Tasks completed
  • Requirements change
  • Configuration change
  • Voluntary staff turnover
  • Overtime rate
  • Defect data
  • Problem data

  • Cost variance
  • Schedule variance
  • Resource flow variance

Key project indexes
  • Cost performance index (CPI)
  • Schedule performance index (SPI)
  • To-complete performance index (TCPI)

Status tracking and reporting
  • Verify that all work reported as "done" is in fact completed.
  • Validate the current status of all activities.
  • Investigate weekly and monthly status reports, problem and issues logs, and memos.

Management system and control processes
  • What regularly scheduled meetings does management hold? With whom?
  • How does the project team track and manage problems and issues?
  • What reports are used? Who is using these reports? For what purposes?
  • Is the project team tracking labor hours?
  • What metrics and control structure is the project team using to manage the project?
  • What processes are there? Did the project team document these processes? How adequate are they, given the project context?

In addition, during the assessment phase, project work must not stop. Work continues using a prioritization scheme. Intensive communication among team members is essential during this phase in order to feed the work authorization process.

The development of the recovery plan
Based on the findings in the assessment report, the assessment team needs to develop a recovery plan. The main objectives of this phase are:
  • To develop a plan that will lead to a useful project.
  • To establish a road map and processes to achieve this goal.
  • To continue building confidence and morale.

The focus of the recovery is on:
  • Producing an achievable schedule.
  • Reestablishing customer and management confidence.
  • Rebaselining the project plan.
  • Sorting project problems.
  • Rebuilding the team.

Recovery categories
There are three major categories of recovery:
  • People
  • Processes and tools
  • Product

The assessment and recovery team need to assess these three categories for each of the following stakeholders:
  • Project sponsor
  • Customer
  • Project manager
  • Technical personnel
  • Quality assurance personnel
  • Support and maintenance personnel

The assessment and recovery team need to discuss the possible recovery strategies with these stakeholders in order to ensure their commitment and involvement during the recovery phase.�

We need to focus on fixing people if we want to fix the project. This includes replacing the project manager. We need to rectify personnel and leadership problems that we identified in the assessment phase. These issues may not be obvious and clear to detect. However, it’s certain that unclear roles and responsibilities will almost certainly lead to leadership problems. We need to develop comprehensive plans that focus people’s efforts and time. Some of the points to consider are:
  • We need to restore the team’s moral.
  • We need to resolve major personnel problems.
  • We must determine if we need to add more resources.
  • We need to manage people’s time effectively.

In the assessment phase, we identified several project management processes that are broken. We need to fix these processes. It is more cost-effective to deal with the source of the problem rather than its symptoms. Some points to consider are:
  • Reengineer the processes that are obviously broken.
  • Implement critical processes that do not exist.
  • Set up a detailed schedule based on short-term milestones.
  • Make sure to track project progress comprehensively.
  • Rebaseline the project after a short time based on real progress.
  • Make sure to implement a comprehensive risk management plan.

As part of the recovery process, we need to recover some of the project deliverables. Most often, the problem lies with requirements. We must assess the stability of the requirements and the willingness of the project stakeholders to freeze the requirements. It is critical to determine the minimal requirements. Points to consider include:
  • Do we have a well-defined set of requirements?
  • Are the product’s requirements stable?
  • Do we need to narrow down the product’s scope?
  • Can we reduce the number of defects and maintain it at a low level?

Strategies for recovering a derailed project
We should start the recovery plan when everyone is ready. The key stakeholders, such as the customer, management, and project team, should all be committed and ready to take the required actions to recover the derailed project. If we launch the recovery too soon, stakeholders will not believe that it is necessary. If we launch the recovery too late, the consequences will be severe. There are several options for recovering a derailed project:
  • Scale down the scope of the product so that we can finish within time and budget.
  • Increase the productivity by implementing short-term continuous improvements.
  • Slip the schedule, increase the budget, and proceed with the original scope.
  • Proceed with damage control, including terminating the project.
  • Implement a combination of the above options.

Conducting the recovery
We need to conduct the project recovery simultaneous to the project workflow. Effective and efficient communication is essential to support the workflow. Critical success factors for conducting the recovery are: commitment, skills, competencies, understanding the real status, constantly reviewing the work status, focus, prioritization of threats and opportunities, and managing politics. The main objectives of this phase are:
  • Execute the recovery plan in order to put the derailed project back on track.
  • Produce accurate forecast of project completion.

The development of the recovery plan must focus on people, processes, and products. We need to keep in mind that people are the key to recovery. To recover a derailed project, the assessment and recovery team needs to implement a comprehensive project management information system for tracking and controlling work packages. Comprehensive recovery plans, commitment to these plans, and meticulous control are mandatory for conducting the recovery. In the next article, we will examine some tools and techniques, and lessons learned to prevent projects from failures.

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