How to rescue a troubled project

Author: Carmello Dimotta, PMP
Tuesday, 21st of March, 2017, 18:30
Location: PwC Zurich, Birchstrasse 160, 8050 Zurich.

How to rescue a troubled project

Interesting topic, that raised my interest already when I came to know about this event. And Marc Lahmann, director of the Transformation Assurance Division, and Manuel Probst, senior project manager at PwC Switzerland, have definitely met my expectations. You find so many whitepapers and articles about problem solving. The PMI also teaches various techniques to analyze and resolve problems. But I was happy to have the opportunity to attend this event and enrich my project management tool set.

That many projects - or even most of them - face a failure during their lifecycle, is well known. Project failure can happen and it does especially nowadays, that the definition of success has changed. The standard project management triangle of scope, time and cost is not enough to define key performance indicators. The so-called "added value" and "stakeholders expectations management" have become even of more importance. The overall project context has become more complex and, with this, also the ways to handle difficult situations.

In the today's environment, the project can be in one of the following stages:
- challenged, normal project management zone. Each project, per definition, can be considered a challenge
- struggling, when the project shows first signals of deviation from baselines
- troubled, it's clear that the project shows signals that something can go wrong
- critical, the project is close to fail
- failure, no options or ways to bring the project back to normal.

The bad news is that projects can quickly go from challenged to troubled. The good news is that troubled projects can be rescued. Key is to have a clear strategy, a structured way to assess the situation and apply the recovery process. A process that, basically, consists of four steps:
1. Direct report of the emergency, answering the what, when, where questions and informing the stakeholders about the issue
2. Anamnese, initial high-level pre-assessment, that helps to bring the project back to trackable
3. Diagnosis, going deeper to the fundamental layer to identify the root cause and plan the recovery
4. Therapy, inform the stakeholders about the recovery and execute it.

After the interactive presentation, at the apero, I could also share my experience with my colleagues and learn from theirs. We were discussing on how to practice the learnings and I had the feeling that we all were looking for ways to develop new issue management techniques. Risk management can be used as mitigation and reduce the likelihood that project issues can arise. However, it's quite normal to face troubled situations in a project and each project manager should have a clear strategy to bring the project back on track. Many thanks to Mr. Lahmann and Mr. Probst for sharing a solid technique to keep available and use when necessary.

Kind regards,
Carmelo Dimotta