A parachute project can rattle even the most efficient and experienced project teams. These initiatives—which often come out of nowhere and drop into the heart of a schedule that’s already busy—can throw everything off balance. They may be triggered by a variety of events, from the announcement of a new regulatory requirement to a competitor’s sudden exit from the marketplace. In most cases, these parachute projects are highly visible and their results will have a big impact on the business. Failure is definitely not an option.
Teams fear parachute projects because they have the potential to disrupt everything, from the normal planning process to the execution of initiatives that are currently underway. The primary worries usually focus on resource availability, since staff are busy with existing tasks and people may not have much room in their schedules to take on new responsibilities. Even when money is available to add personnel, the team must factor in the time needed to find and onboard the right people.
How can you deal with a parachute project without dooming your existing initiatives to delays and funding miseries? First, don’t panic (and cue the Douglas Adams references). Next, use your portfolio methodology to help your team fit the new project into the mix and still drive everything to a successful completion.
Prioritize your efforts
Most parachute projects immediately take over the number one slot when it comes to priorities. These are the types of initiatives that your company must execute if you want to continue doing business and maintaining a healthy revenue stream. If a parachute project is late and you miss a compliance deadline, for example, your organization will likely face some significant negative consequences.
Look across your portfolio and determine how your existing pipeline of projects should be prioritized now that this new initiative is part of the equation. How do the rankings change? Which projects move down the list and which continue to be most pressing? You need to very clearly identify where your resources are needed and where they’ll do the most good.
Delete workloads where you can
Organizations often carry along projects that are low priority but satisfy a niche need. The execution of a parachute project may require that these secondary or tertiary efforts be postponed (or sometimes cancelled entirely). It’s important that the senior leadership team come to a consensus on which projects simply can’t—or shouldn’t—continue to be part of the active portfolio.
Knowing that your team now has a new, can’t-fail project to execute, which initiatives no longer make sense to tackle right now? What can be postponed or deleted without negatively impacting the organization? Does the parachute project render any of your previously planned efforts unnecessary, or will it trigger revisions to the scope or timeline of projects that are already underway? It could be a situation where the company is in the midst of a small equipment upgrade, which should now be halted because the parachute project will supersede the planned enhancement.
Evaluate resource needs and availability
Now is the time to assess when each resource (staff, funding, materials) us needed across the projects in your portfolio. Look for any potential bottlenecks or conflicts. You should also explore opportunities to smooth out the demand curve where possible—you may be able to synchronize the timing of low craft labor needs in one project with intense workforce requirements in another, for example. Determine if there are other ways to fulfill your workforce needs, either by leveraging external vendors more aggressively or pulling in additional in-house staff to focus on the highest-priority project tasks.