Sometimes project plans run into so much trouble they can only be described as broken. Missed milestone deadlines are usually one of the first signs your plan is falling apart, but as part of our project management consulting work with customers we’re often able to identify a host of earlier issues that should have triggered alarm bells but didn’t.
If you realize your project plan has gone off the rails, it can be a frustrating—and sometimes frightening—experience. But before you start adjusting your original plan, consider if tweaking your strategy in response to failures is really going to get you headed back toward success. The factors behind your problems may be deeper than you expect.
Isn’t fixing the original project plan the quickest and easiest option?
Manipulating your existing plan and using it to return the project to a successful course may sound like the simplest option, but the reality is that you could be stuck later fixing it again and again.
We’ve found that most troubled projects are beyond a simple fix, and in most cases your time and efforts will be better spent developing a new plan to ensure that past errors—whether they’re rooted in inaccurate or incomplete data, flawed assumptions, biased decisions, or a lack of solid project management expertise—don’t continue to hamper your progress. Creating a new plan will enable you to include the right level of granularity and accurate dependencies to move your project to a successful completion.
How can we develop a new plan we can trust?
Understand why your original plan fell apart: Reviewing the scope and details of your initial project plan is a useful exercise, and any plan that doesn’t work out as intended deserves an extra measure of attention. This will not only help you put together a new plan that’s more reliable and workable than the first one, it also gives your team important insight into how your past processes and methodology need to be improved so you don’t repeat similar missteps during future projects.
Look for assumptions that need to change: A number of beliefs were likely incorporated during your plan’s original scope and timeline development, and it’s not uncommon for teams to maintain little or no documentation of these assumptions. You need to scrutinize these influences when creating your new plan, but you need to identify and isolate them, first. If you can’t remove or effectively update the assumptions that are driving your plan, then any fixes applied to your strategy could run into the same trouble down the road.
Review the integrity of your information sources: Data is at the heart of every effective project plan, and poor-quality data—redundant, obsolete, improperly formatted, incomplete, or inaccurate—can easily undermine your strategizing efforts. Be sure you thoroughly vet the sources contributing data to the plan and assess how that information is being used. You may uncover inconsistencies or other issues that need to be resolved before you develop a new project plan.
Evaluate the list of stakeholders participating in the planning process: Many aspects of your initiative’s plan require input from experts, such as those who are directly responsible for completing key project activities or people who manage outside collaborators. If you haven’t gathered the right information from these stakeholders, your plan may be headed in the wrong direction before you even begin. Be sure to confirm task durations and dependencies, budget estimates, and resource requirements with those who are most familiar with each component of your project so you can be confident your plan is built on authentic knowledge and authoritative guidance.