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Project Rescue. How to get failed projects on track.



Reading time

3 minutes


Luca Filippone


Why you sometimes have to pull the plug on an IT project that has cost millions...

In the past year, we’ve seen a slew of news stories about big IT projects that have fallen apart at a late stage, racking up millions in losses for the company. They include everything. From greenfield projects; home-grown in Belgium, to complex offshore cooperations that had been intended to pull off challenging SAP integrations. The one thing they had in common was the final verdict: pull the plug and take the losses. Let's see how to avoid this and get failed projects on track.

As Managing Partner & Agile Project Manager for The Value Hub, I see IT projects and big companies that have gone off the rails every day. With The Value Hub Project Rescue we have been able to resuscitate many projects that seemed to be destined for the same fate.

How do projects end up on a dead-end street? Where is it that the whole process grinds to a halt? Can you pinpoint the moment that the whole team starts heading down the wrong track? If you ask me, these three common project decisions often herald the slow death of a project. And why not talk about possible solutions for project rescue right away?

3 problems and how to get failed projects on track

1. Let’s go live!

Of course, sponsors wants to see a timeline and budget. But as long as the project is still in the embryonic stage, you can’t give them those. There is still no scope, and the resources are not yet available. But, that still doesn’t stop a lot of project managers from plucking a go-live date out of thin air. It puts a sword of Damocles hanging over everyone’s head from day one, and that tends to become a source of drama in subsequent phases.

Is there a better way? A way to get failed projects on track or even avoid this need? Yes! Make sure there’s a clear MVP by involving the Business in a number of workshops. Develop a high-level roadmap in which a team of experienced developers has input and can assess the workload.

2. Agile processes “by the book”

“Agile doesn’t work for us”. That’s something I hear a lot. And it’s true that it sometimes creates more uncertainty than a stable structure. Often, it's not because of the Agile method, but because of the self-proclaimed Agile experts who took an online course or read a book about Agile. Agile project management is not a direct implementation of theoretical principles. Because of the variables and uncertainties within any project, there’s no manual that describes exactly what steps to take in what order. 

Is there a better way? Yes! Agile doesn’t say anything about the experience you need in change or risk management. For every challenging project, the know-how of an experienced Agile project manager is indispensable. This person cannot only mitigate the risks, but also directs the team and stakeholders towards a best case scenario for this specific project.

2 men talking about how to get failed projects on track

3. Spinning the bad news (or not talking about it at all)

This is the most common, and definitely the most destructive decision you can make in a project. Many project managers see reporting anything less than good news to the steering group as a failure. But nothing could be further away from the truth. A steering group always has to be informed about the real status of a project, otherwise it will never be able to properly execute its task as “management board”. Even bad news has to be communicated completely and transparently. Withholding or dressing up the bad news is counterproductive and can have disastrous consequences.

Is there a better way? Yes! At the project level, any bad news always has multiple causes. It’s important to remember that the cause is not “the development team”, but generally a confluence of circumstances (bottlenecks, lack of information, technology gaps, etc.). So communicate this clearly to everyone and tell it straight.

The steering group will always ask about the action plan to be implemented in response and the impact on the timeline and budget from here. Be prepared for these questions. If you do this, you might find that the bad news is well received because the solutions going forward are already there.

Let's get in touch and see how we can help you get failed projects on track again!

about the author

Luca Filippone

Italian, to the point and people minded. These words describe Luca best. Luca is Managing Partner at The Value Hub and the first to come up with new ideas and interesting opportunities.

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