You should already have a formal mechanism for adding projects to your organization’s portfolio. However, our project management consulting teams have found that some companies don’t follow an established process when a project is removed. It’s common that a project is pulled from the list without a thorough evaluation of the cancelation’s long-term effects. In some cases, firms never completely delete initiatives and instead maintain a broad pool of inactive efforts that linger on indefinitely.
If your stakeholders want to cancel a project, there are some actions you should take before that decision is complete. These six steps will help you make the most informed business decision around removing a project and will also enable you to maintain the health and value of your overall portfolio.
1 – Gain consensus on whether the project should be eliminated or shelved for later.
Your stakeholders may not share the same opinions when it comes to eliminating a project. Should it be canceled entirely or dropped into a holding pattern for possible review at some point down the road? Everyone needs to be on the same page before taking any action, since the ability to either reassign resources to other active projects or to successfully restart the postponed project later will depend on how you handle the initiative’s fate in the near term.
2 – List any deliverables that should transfer to future projects.
Sometimes a project becomes obsolete in its current form but a select few deliverables remain important to the company’s strategic goals. Work with sponsors and the executive team to determine if any components of the project should transition into a current project or be put on a list for future consideration.
3 – Identify linked projects and determine how/if they will be affected.
It isn’t always obvious to sponsors or executives—or even to the project team—how the cancelation of one project could leave other initiatives in a bad position. Is a future project scoped to build on the results of the one under consideration for removal? Was the canceled project expected to generate revenue needed for subsequent efforts? This information could influence whether the project is canceled, postponed, or kept intact, so be sure your stakeholders understand the consequences of their decisions.
4 – Notify collaborators about the cancelation.
Depending on how far the project had advanced, it may be appropriate to alert internal stakeholders and external business partners that the initiative won’t move forward. This could include vendors who bid on the project, departments that have tentatively set aside resources to support the effort, or end users who helped develop the requirements and use cases. Some canceled projects won’t call for these downstream notifications, but your collaborators should know they can remove the initiative from their own planning activities.
5 – Gather and archive data and other documentation.
Your canceled project might include information that would be useful to review and potentially leverage for future efforts. Vendor estimates, regulatory guidance, equipment specifications, workflows, software documentation—if there’s any chance you’ll want to revisit this data later, be diligent now about compiling and storing it in a format your team can access.
6 – Review your portfolio’s health status after the project is removed.
Any time the organization’s portfolio changes, it’s important to take a fresh look to ensure that risk levels, financial metrics, resource allocations, and other factors continue to align with executives’ expectations and the company’s objectives. If deleting the project pushes the portfolio out of balance, that information may alter whether the effort is canceled or its scope, timeframe, or deliverables are modified to better suit the current business need.
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