The first step is to evaluate the overall project. This can be done through a basic project audit to identify the problems and the severity of them. Some of the questions to start with are around the fundamental definitions of project.
- Confirm who the project sponsors and stakeholders are.
- Clarify roles and responsibilities.
- Validate the project objectives.
- Validate the project’s priorities and risks..
- Determine the mechanisms for escalating questions, concerns, and problems and how they are functioning.
- Determining whether you have the right resources available; both people and funding sources needed for the project
- Assessing whether you have the right documentation, records, requirements info, etc
- Is there an updated project plan?
- Is there an updated action log, with owners dates that are getting closed out?
- Do project meetings happen when needed? Are the right people in attendance?
Then use a simple ranking process to prioritize the top contributors. Now, stop before jumping into fix it mode (we all like to do that). You need to look at the serious problems found and what root causes contributed as well as the benefits of the project. Evaluate the value proposition and make sure the scope and problems do relate to what needs to be delivered for the benefit proposition. Ask the tough questions, and make sure that the value, resource, investment is still priority with stakeholders and do a candid review of findings and interview stakeholders as well for their ideas and input. Once the decision is agreed to that the project is worth rescuing than follow the advice below to fast track your efforts. It is important to accelerate rapid action to ensure you can get team motivated and momentum to change how things are being done.
Now take a look at that prioritized list, ask yourself what level of effort is needed in each area. Are there a few areas that you can quickly stop the bleeding? Is the situation severe enough you need to stop all work till actions implemented? Is it only that key work areas require corrective measures so work can continue in other areas? For example, if scope is “out of control” then it might be a simple change to allow no scope changes without change request, impact assessment and review board to have appropriate checks in place before having team effort diverted to that work. This should at least firm up the current scope and limit the detours caused by ever changing scope of work. Pick those areas, and put task force in place to implement quick actions to turn situation around. This will build evidence and belief in stakeholders and the team that change is happening and will be effective.
The next step is to go back to the list and review remaining items for most critical biggest impact items. Do you have people issues? Project planning issues? Technology gaps? Change management dilemma? Do you need to pursue a new sponsor? There are so many potential causes that it takes some honest critical assessment to get to the heart of the matter. Take the time to talk to team members and really get to the bottom of where issues lie as your recovery plan will be far more effective. As the project manager after you have completed this effort you are on the road to avoiding project failure. Take the time at this stage to prepare communication, be transparent to all on the team and stakeholders on findings and plan to develop action plans.
The next stage is to develop your project recovery plan and sell it to the team, stakeholders, customers, suppliers etc that may be part of project. Begin your planning and communication with a healthy dose of reality. If something should have worked based on X assumption and it wasn’t, don’t continue to assume it will and determine a viable alternative. The recovery plan itself will vary widely based on the size, scope and type of project you are working on. Basic elements are issue statement, root cause, impact, resources required, short term actions, long term actions, date fix will be in place, who the accountable person will be. If there are multiple options, than lay those out without playing the blame game so decision can be made. This will take strong communication and salesmanship to convince all parties that this project will be successful and ensure strong support needed. At this point, you may be communicating with a frustrated team, angry customers, internal political battles, competing agendas amongst other issues so be deliberate in crafting your message.
Once you have review the plan and gained agreement with support to move forward on implementation. Start fresh with scope, schedule, planning to calibrate they are the best path forward. Than you really need to focus on motivating the team, building confidence that team will triumph and track and report on the plans. Keep careful tabs on the progress to continue to respond and plan for any new potential risks. Your actions should be quick and decisive to ensure that there is highly effective progress. It is up to you to work the plan, keep communication real timely and relevant to all stakeholders.