If you have ever been on a troubled project, you know that
there can end up being many inter-related problems. One of the first things you
need to do is assess the troubled project to determine what is going on. This
includes talking to many (or all) of the relevant stakeholders involved,
including the current project manager, sponsor, key team members, etc.

When you talk to these people you’re likely to get all kinds
of opinions regarding the problems and the causes. Since many of the
stakeholders are emotionally invested in the project, they may have a hard time
communicating logically and dispassionately. Many of these problems that are
expressed will be symptoms and the project manager must perform root-cause
analysis to try to determine the actual causes. Root cause analysis means that
you ask a series of “why” questions until you get to the point where there are
no more answers.

Let’s take an example. You may talk to a client manager, and
he or she may tell you that the cause of the problems on the project is poor
morale. However, after asking a series of why questions, you determine that
the poor morale is caused by the team working too much overtime, which is
caused by not having enough resources on the team, which is caused by doing a
poor job estimating the work, which is caused by not spending enough time
planning the work, which is caused by the client wanting to start the project
too quickly.

In the example above, one of the alternatives for the rescue
might be to replan and re-estimate the project,
perhaps with a reduced scope. This may help you gain the resources required and
it may then help morale. (Notice that the root cause may be
that the client started the project too early, which at this point, cannot be

If there are multiple problems (and there usually are), and
multiple root causes, you need to determine which problems are the most urgent
to resolve and work on these first. When you are looking at alternatives, make
sure you understand the tradeoffs of cost, duration and scope (quality). In
many cases, a troubled project will have problems in more than one of these
triple constraints. A project that is trending way over budget, for instance,
is also probably trending way over schedule as well. The alternatives for
recovery should address both sides.

It’s important to identify alternatives. That is, you may
have an alternative that attempts to bring both budget and schedule back within
expectations. However, you may also have alternatives that:

  • Cost
    even more money and deliver more quickly
  • Complete
    the project sooner and cheaper with less functionality
  • Complete
    the project less expensively but over a longer timeframe

If you provide multiple options like this, the sponsor will
have more of an understanding of the tradeoffs associated with turning the
project around.

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