Why is It So Difficult to Rescue Troubled Projects? | PMAlliance Project Management Blog

Sometimes a project goes off the rails—it’s well over budget and eating through the last of its funding, the schedule is slipping and critical milestones haven’t been met, or the parameters of the project have ballooned out of control and the team is no longer sure which goals they’re supposed to be pursuing. Support from sponsors may be fading and end users might have fallen out of touch due to delays and haphazard or vague communications. Bringing a project’s progress back on track is already difficult enough in most cases, but there are some factors that can make these efforts even more challenging.

If your team is facing a troubled project, consider where sneaky obstacles may be making a resolution more difficult. By identifying and acknowledging the factors that stand in the way, your center of excellence will be better equipped to save a trouble project.

Fear is a powerful force that can hamper any team’s efforts to right a listing ship. Concerns about retribution or fallout could stop key members of the Project Team from recognizing how badly troubled the project really is. Team members and their coworkers may avoid discussing problems because they’re afraid they’ll be blamed for any mistakes that are determined to have been made. It’s possible they’re worried about receiving poor performance evaluations, being passed over for promotions, or even losing their jobs. This fear can quickly push those in the center of excellence into self-preservation mode, causing them to point fingers at others or to otherwise deflect blame rather than working to identify the real issues and focusing on fixing them.

Ego is another common hurdle standing in the way of progress when a project runs into trouble. Simply admitting that problems exist can be a difficult step for stakeholders and project team members to make, especially if they’re deeply invested in the project’s success. Formulating solutions is also made more challenging because egos may stand in the way of having candid discussions and conducting objective reviews of the project’s current status. Both fear and ego often lead people to make poor decisions, further exacerbating the problems.

A lack of visibility causes many teams to take action far too late, long after a project becomes seriously compromised. By that time, the chances that any resolution can bring efforts back in line are slim and the prospects for success are quickly fading. Maintaining a good level of visibility across the project’s activities is incredibly difficult where long-standing silos exist, or where rigid hierarchies prevent information from traveling up and down the team’s structure. Even if team members  recognize problems in their own sector, it’s unlikely they’re aware of issues in other areas that are making the overall situation worse. It isn’t until all these factors are brought together that the team finally understands how deeply troubled the project has become.

Waning interest can also create a situation where identifying and resolving critical project issues is made more challenging. It might even be a primary factor behind the project’s current problems. While it may be strange to think that team members could lose enthusiasm for a project, burnout is a powerful force and team members who are stretched thin only have so much energy to give. Engagement can also sag if sponsors or the executive team don’t provide the expected levels of support or if their attention shifts away from the project to other efforts. Getting a troubled project back on track when the team isn’t actively interested and genuinely committed is nearly impossible. The project’s leadership must boost enthusiasm inside the Project Team before real progress can be made.

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