How to Fix a Failing Project

Projects fail for many reasons, but the most common include

  • unrealistic expectations
  • lack of accountability or discipline
  • unclear or conflicting goals
  • poor communication

Poor communication is often a big part of what causes projects to fail. It can mean:

  • Lacking a structured plan for communicating regularly with key stakeholders about the risks and successes of the project
  • Not having a consistent person responsible for communicating with all stakeholders (possibly because there’s too much turnover)

When a project fails, there are some steps to take and decisions necessary to decide if the project can be recovered. Let’s look at a few of them.

Stop the project and consider your options.

When your project is failing, it’s best to stop immediately. This might seem obvious, but many people will try to push forward with a failing strategy for as long as possible. This is a mistake because it only worsens the situation and wastes valuable resources and funds that could be used on other projects.

In addition to considering whether or not you should cancel the project altogether, it’s also important to consider how much time and money you want to invest into fixing the current problem before scrapping it altogether. Refrain from considering sunk costs in making these project decisions; if the decision is to cancel, try to make the best use of what has already been done. For example, a failed supercomputer project used the technology to increase the processing power of a mainframe computer.

It may be worth hiring an outside consultant if you need to gain experience recovering projects. Otherwise, scrapping the whole thing may be preferable since they’ve already spent so much time working on something that cannot be fixed anyway.

Distribute the remaining work among a smaller group of people.

To recover a failing project as soon as possible, start by distributing work among a smaller group. Divide the work into smaller tasks and get a smaller group of people to do the job. This approach is better than keeping everything in one bucket because if you fail, it will be much easier to pick up from where you left off and continue. By involving more people in your project, you can have several backup plans in case things go south with one strategy or another.

It’s also essential to ensure you have the best team for the job. Evaluate the project team and decide whether replacements or reassignments should be made. Getting the best team in place will help ensure you don’t fail again.

Hire an outside consultant to help you.

If the project is too complex to be managed by a smaller group of people and if you need help, try hiring an outside consultant. Many professional organizations can provide freelance consultants. Do your research and find someone with experience in management and project planning. Look for someone who has worked in your industry before and will understand the intricacies of your business.

The first step is to define the consulting services you need based on your goals. If you want someone who can provide strategic advice on how you can improve how things are currently working, ask them how they would approach this type of problem themselves or what resources they would use if they were starting fresh. They should also be able to give examples of previous work that demonstrates their expertise in this area, such as case studies or client references.

If, instead, there’s a specific problem in mind (eg, “I’m stuck” or “I don’t know where to start”), then ask them what had helped other clients solve similar issues—and make sure these clients have had similar needs. You’ll also want potential candidates to provide references from past jobs so that there’s some evidence about their track record — this includes both praises from clients and any criticisms from former coworkers or employers. Then call those references, but remember that not everyone will give honest feedback out loud–so listen carefully while asking questions during these interviews. Sometimes people may tell different stories than what appears on paper when asked directly.

Unable to fix with a consultant? Best to scrap that project altogether.

If you cannot fix a failing project with an outside consultant, it is best to scrap it altogether. The cost of a failed project can be high. For example, a failed automation project spent millions of dollars a year for ten years before giving up. Consider how those funds might have been better used.

It would help if you worked with the right people with proven industry experience. They can help you decide if it is better for you to cancel the project or continue with it as-is or with some replanning. They will also advise avoiding making the same mistakes in future projects so they don’t become failures again.

If the project fails a second time, reconsider canceling.

If you fail to complete a project the first time, consider canceling the project altogether. You may consider starting over with the same project, but it will be more difficult because of your time invested in it. Consider creating a new project, and planning it from scratch, to avoid all the past issues. Be sure the project ends with a lessons-learned session, so you learn from your mistakes and avoid them in the future.

If your project is failing, it is best to stop and regroup. You can then reassess the situation and decide how to proceed best. If necessary, consider canceling or scrapping the project altogether. You may also consider reading Project Janitor: Cleaning Other Manager’s Mess by Dr. Jamal El Ali. Dr. Ali presents a four-stage plan for recovering failed projects. If you have any additional tips for our community, please leave them in the comments below.

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