Sometimes PMs encounter an issue within a project that looks like it could be a showstopper. In other instances, you may discover too late that your initiative is already so far off track that making meaningful progress appears nearly impossible. Recovering from these events can be difficult but the risk of all-out project failure may be more costly—in financial terms that result from hits to your company’s image, its competitive position, its market share, and even to your own reputation.
When a project disaster occurs, your instinct will be to quickly begin fixing the problem. That’s the right mindset but don’t rush to action. Haste and a lack of a solid strategy will only dig you deeper into a hole. Instead, step back and gather your thoughts. With everything that’s at stake, it may also be wise to partner with a consultancy that can offer project management services beyond the capabilities and expertise that exist within your team.
Before developing a plan of action, you should objectively assess the situation and determine the exact nature and scope of the problem. If a key piece of equipment arrived broken, for example, how extensive is the damage? If a technology issue was overlooked during the initial planning phase, which other systems are also impacted? The problem could be something outside your immediate control—inclement weather, local labor pressures, utility disruptions—so carefully evaluating the situation, understanding what’s happening, and getting a handle on why it’s affecting your project will be important as you move to the next steps.
Figuring out how your project began to collapse requires that you search back through the project’s history to identify the root cause of the problem. You may discover the damaged equipment was a result of improper handling, or that an unforeseen labor dispute that has thrown your project into disarray has been simmering for months. As you conduct this exercise, avoid placing blame and remain focused on the bigger picture. Assigning culpability may come later, but for now you need information in hand that will enable you to develop a plan to rescue your troubled project.
Once you’ve gathered insight on why, when, and how the disaster began, you can begin to evaluate whether your project can be saved. It’s vital that you bring the right people together to provide perspective on what will be required to resolve the current problems and if the resources are available to make that happen. Discuss where hard deadlines exist, such as regulatory cutoff timeframes or permit expiration windows. If your target completion date isn’t flexible, you’ll need to look at the feasibility of resequencing and compressing the project’s tasks to maintain alignment with your original schedule. Also, consider if your funding source is able to support overages that might be incurred during the recovery phase. Additional staff or replacement materials could quickly consume the rest of your original budget and leave you in an even worse situation.
If you have access to the necessary resources to pull your project from the jaws of disaster, you’ll need to develop a plan that’s sufficiently detailed and carefully structured to address the initial problem and avoid any repeat of the circumstances that triggered it. The support of a project management consultancy experienced in rescuing at-risk projects will be critical in moving your initiative back onto a successful path. You may need to modify the project’s scope, its timeline, or the list of deliverables. Expectations will need to be reset, and you’ll want to maintain strong communication with your organization’s leadership team as you put the revised plan into action.