A project that’s falling toward failure—woefully behind the target timeline, burning through funding too fast, or in danger of not delivering the expected results—is something project teams work strenuously to avoid. Project professionals are generally resourceful and creative, and teams have pulled many faltering projects back from the brink of failure before things had time to go completely out of control. But what if your project strayed into dangerous territory too quickly? What if no one recognized the signs of trouble soon enough?
If your project isn’t going well, you need to understand how close your effort is to failing and which options are still on the table to fix it. Some project recoveries require more resources or expertise than an organization can pull together on its own. This is very often the case with high-visibility and strategically important initiatives, where a failure could be so damaging that it destabilizes the company. In those instances, swiftly connecting with outside assistance could be the only way to get your project back on track before it crashes.
To provide your organization with the tools to understand when it’s time to seek external help, we’ve compiled some of the most common signs that an at-risk project might be too far gone to rescue using the resources typically found in-house.
Teamwork is nonexistent. When projects get really far out of whack, it’s not uncommon for group members to pull back on communication and collaboration. But a decrease in information sharing and the resulting increase in misunderstandings are just one layer of the problem. At its core, it’s a lack of unity among project team members and it’s extremely difficult to overcome. At this point, the business likely needs external support to rebuild unity and rescue the at-risk initiative.
Missed deadlines are piling up. A delay here or there, maybe one milestone date that’s come and gone—these aren’t necessarily signs your project is heading toward certain doom. But if there’s a growing list of target dates your team failed to meet, your initiative might be too far off the planned track for a routine baseline rescheduling solution. Pulling everyone off their task list to revisit the timeline will only delay things further, and may put you so far outside the accepted time windows that recovery is impossible. This is a time to tap an outside partner that can help reestablish a realistic schedule.
Progress has stalled across the board. It’s not uncommon for project activities to experience small hiccups before team members find and fix the acute causes. However, if your project is at a standstill, things could truly be bound for disaster. It’s a particularly troublesome situation if you’re facing systemic roadblocks that will be challenging for the internal team to resolve. Long-standing organizational dilemmas can be frustrating and demoralizing for team members, and the practical and pragmatic perspectives of a neutral third-party partner can provide the opening you need to get your efforts moving forward again.
Influential stakeholders and senior leaders have lost faith in the project. When your biggest champions doubt your ability to succeed, you have a confidence problem to overcome in addition to the various project-level problems that led you to this point. You won’t be able to regain stakeholders’ trust without proof you’ve returned the project to a successful path, and you may not be able to address and remediate the base-level issues without the support of your sponsors. Solutions co-developed with a neutral party are sometimes the only way back to a healthy state when the leadership team is ready to shut your project down.