Rescuing Failed Projects

Introduction: Rescuing Failed Projects

Over the course of my career I’ve participated in the rescue of IT programs and projects that nearly completed their downward spiral towards failure: missed budgets, missed schedules, poor quality and, ultimately, un-achieved expectations. The reasons for project failures are well documented on consulting web sites as well as in the detailed case histories of significant law suits involving third party providers who could not achieve what they promised in their delivery contracts. Similarly, hordes of gurus and consultants have written numerous white papers and tomes about the warning signs of impending failure. But what do you do, as either the internal or external resource brought in to rescue the floundering wreck, once the ship has already hit the iceberg?

Program Rescue Pressures

In rescue mode, the core program management team needs to perform under severe pressures from all sides, including from

  • Senior Management wanting to re-assert their control over future activities while also limiting their responsibility for past failures and resulting write-offs
  • Vendors looking for payment and trying to sell future work
  • Staff members concerned about their livelihoods and bonuses
  • Senior IT Management trying to ensure that history does not repeat itself

Managing Vendor Relationships During Restructuring

During a project rescue, vendor relationships can be particularly tricky. Staff augmentation vendors feel especially vulnerable as they cope with the need to keep existing consultants on-board, productive and happy while positioning the staffing firm overall to take advantage of revised approaches, manpower needs and rapidly shifting schedules and priorities. Internally IT management needs to identify the resources it wants to keep through the transition and work closely with the staff augmentation firm to adjust staff headcount and expectations for remaining staff within the first weeks after the transformation is made public.

Overall Approach

The course to project recovery is very similar to the time-worn methodology identified over forty years ago by the master builders of the first large systems, that is,

  • Conduct a high-spot assessment of the program and its constituent projects
  • Rebuild and confirm the business case
  • Get Senior Management Buy-in
  • Assess and secure assets
  • Create Detailed Plans
  • Establish New Program Governance
  • Re-launch the Program