The Failing Project: Know When It’s Time for an Intervention


Rescuing a troubled project is a difficult undertaking. But sometimes there’s an equally big challenge that must be overcome before you can start developing a strategy to pull a troubled project back to life: Knowing when your project is too far gone for a simple fix.

failing project

Below are some indicators that your initiative’s problems are so extensive that traditional remedies are no longer enough to bring it back on track and it’s time for a true intervention.

Delays are piling up. You may not be able to avoid every minor delay within a project, particularly as the supply chain continues to respond to difficult logistics, production conditions remain less than ideal, and remote work may affect onsite operations. However, if you see the schedule setbacks snowballing, you’re likely past the point of paying for expedited shipping options or compressing timelines to return to an on-time completion. You need to immediately step back and recognize that your project is nearing its failure point.

Your budget is drained but your projections show you should still have funds left. Not only is a depleted budget a serious indicator of immediate trouble, it’s also often a symptom of bigger problems. It may be that your team has lost control of expenditures because rush charges are consuming more money than were forecasted. There’s also the possibility that your group is so overwhelmed trying to resolve a growing stack of challenges that they no longer have time to address administrative tasks such as tracking invoices and updating the project’s actual expenditures.

Your stakeholders ask if you need help. This is a major warning flag, especially if your sponsors and executive staff aren’t normally in tune with your project’s day-to-day activities. With a little distance between you, they may be noticing things you aren’t—team members who seem harassed or who don’t provide updates as regularly as usual, vendors wondering aloud about last-minute changes to the project schedule, a growing list of sponsors unhappy that project deadlines are being missed, etc. If you need help, reach out to your leadership team about how they might assist you by freeing up funds or allocating additional headcount until you catch up. If they ask you if you need help, take the hint and assess your situation.

Your team is exhausted. Everyone is accustomed to dealing with busy stretches throughout a normal project lifecycle. However, an environment where everything has become an emergency and the work is piling up rather than getting done is not sustainable over the long term. You also don’t want to risk burning out your project team members, because you’re sure to find yourself in a worse situation if you lose key contributors. Be vigilant for any signs your group’s energy reserves are running low or morale is dropping. These are often harbingers that your project’s health has already degraded to a dangerous level and you need to act quickly to stop the slide.

You’re worried about your project. Trust your gut. The old adage applies to project management, too. If your instincts are telling you something is wrong, heed that warning and immediately begin assessing your project’s health. To confirm your suspicions (or to allay your fears), you’ll need reliable, up-to-date data that enables you to quickly review progress against your plan. If you haven’t yet implemented a project management methodology capable of delivering accessible and actionable information, make it a priority to develop that awareness. In the meantime, err on the side of caution and begin getting a level set on your troubled initiative. From there you can determine how best to move forward.

PMAlliance, Inc uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consultingproject management training and project portfolio management.