5 things to do when your project goes wrong

Work in project management long enough, and you learn a very important lesson: Things go wrong. It’s inevitable. Projects fall behind schedule, go over budget or just simply crash and burn. Smart project managers know this and work hard to recognise when they need to step in and take action.

What should you do if you start seeing signs that your project is in trouble? Here are five things to try to get back on track.

  1. Take the lead.

A failing project can send waves of panic through a project management office. Executives, contractors, team members, clients and other stakeholders all have a vested interest in seeing a project through to successful completion; when it becomes clear that’s not going to happen, a strong leader must come forward with a clear, proactive plan. Showing leadership in times of crisis is one of the most essential project management requirements.

  1. Don’t be tempted to simply throw more resources at the problem.

It can be tempting to keep pouring time and money into a flawed project, thinking more resources will solve the problem. Ideally, you will have set exit points into the project management framework ahead of time, giving you an ‘out’ should the project go sideways. If this isn’t the case and simply pulling the plug on the project isn’t possible, consider a more careful allocation of resources instead. Find a mentor to help guide team members, think about the true impact of additional resources before you spend and enlist some help for yourself if the project management concepts are outside your technical expertise.

  1. Don’t sugar coat a problem.

Trying to hide a struggling project won’t make it go away. If anything, this will probably just makes things worse! When faced with a failing project management framework, it’s always best to communicate the problem clearly and with full transparency. You can’t get team members working with you to solve the issue if they don’t know what’s happening. Be honest about what’s gone wrong and what you need to fix it, but avoid spreading blame or making excuses.

  1. Learn from the experience.

A thorough post-mortem review is often one of the most important project management phases. Whether you somehow manage to salvage the project or have to scrap it altogether, there are lessons to be learned. Ask the tough questions: Why did we fail? Where or when did things go wrong? What do we need to do to prevent this happening in future? Create a supportive, relaxed atmosphere where all team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts openly in order to get the most out of your review.

  1. Follow up.

After the review of project management methodologies, be sure to follow through with any useful suggestions you and your team uncovered. Use that information to develop stronger training initiatives, project management tips and best practices, and follow up with decision makers to be sure necessary changes are implemented.

Failed projects are an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and make improvements going forward. Approach them with the right attitude, and you can strengthen your project management toolkit.

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