troubled projects recovery

Article - The Ultimate Matrix for Troubled Projects Recovery



In recent years I have been spending a good portion of my consulting time on rescuing troubled projects around the world. Very often I would receive an e-mail stating something to the effect of:

Hi Jamal,

Our company is currently experiencing certain issues with our (typically flagship) Project X and we would like to hear your opinion on how to remedy the situation. Would you be able to fly here for a project audit?

As a result of this, after having been exposed to a multitude of various troubled initiatives, I decided to attempt to systemize different types of problematic projects and potential approaches to their rescue (see Table 1). Please also note that I am trying to combine both the project portfolio management (i.e. value) and project management (i.e. on-time, on-budget, etc.) aspects of project success.

Table 1


Article - Five Actions to Take When Dealing with a Troubled Project


In my previous blog posting "Seven Questions to Ask When Dealing with a Troubled Project" we examined the questions the project manager should ask when handed a troubled project. Let us now take a look at the possible actions one may initiate based on the answers received.

Answer #1 - This Project is Failing Due to a Poor Portfolio Management Decision

Actions you may consider:

  • Cancel this project.
  • Go back to the drawing board to change the project scope, timeline, budget, resources or timing to better fit company strategy, required project balance or to improve its value.

Answer #2 - We are Failing with the Project Scope

Actions you should probably take:

  • Initiate proper requirements elicitation, analysis and documentation procedure. This action should be undertaken by the individuals specifically trained in requirements engineering.
  • Ensure that the requirements document is written at a consistent and appropriate level of detail, provides an adequate basis for design and covers all possible  alternatives and exceptions.
  • Get rid of all the TBDs and ambiguous words in the requirements specifications document.
  • Conduct walkthroughs, inspections and peer reviews with customers, technical team and an experienced project manager.

Don't forget to ask the following questions in order to renegotiate the project scope:

Seven Questions to Ask When Dealing with a Troubled Project


I am frequently being asked the following question in my consulting and training and training engagements:

We have a troubled project at our organization. What is the starting point when dealing with such ventures? What questions do we have to seek the answers for in order to rectify the situation?

Question #1: Why is this project failing?

In my opinion this is the most important question to ask. Before we move further in his analysis of the failed or troubled project we need to establish whether the failure should be attributed to the project portfolio management or project management root causes.

If we establish that - even if finished on-time and on-budget - the project would most likely not add any value to the organization (domain of portfolio management), why should we waste time and resources on putting it back on the rails? In other words, if determined that the project was a bad idea to begin with (e.g. construction of a new airport that no airline intended to use )we should probably either cancel it outright or go back to the drawing board and, if possible, change the design of the final product.

Question #2: Where did we fail on the project portfolio management side of things?

If we managed to establish that the failure was on the project portfolio management end of the spectrum, then the next step should be dedicated to find out where exactly our shortcomings were. Depending on the type of the organization the answers to this question could vary quite considerably.