Rescuing a Troubled Project – How Ownet Can Help

Ownet is often contacted by clients experiencing problems in implementing projects. Such problems are diverse, but can generally be grouped into three areas, the specified functionality does not match expectations, budget overruns (both cost and effort) and conflicting team dynamics. Invariably it is only one of these that is failing, but whatever the problem it needs to be solved and the project put back on track.

Ownet will meet with the project sponsor and stakeholders to obtain an understanding of the project history and sensitivities, the actual problem(s) and decide whether it has the capability to assist. As a first step it will review the business rationale and assess whether the business justification is still valid and the project still relevant. This will involve reviewing the business case and determining whether the business needs and market conditions are still applicable and whether technology advancements may have rendered the project uneconomic.

Assuming that the project is worth recovering, Ownet will conduct a project recovery assessment on the current status and validate each project component to identify what has failed and produce a recovery plan identifying the changes which, if implemented, will direct the project back on course.

Project review

No project is the same and the assessment will be customised, but generally the following documentation will be reviewed and where relevant the project team will be challenged on the supporting project processes to gain an understanding of their effectiveness.

  1. The project definition – Determine whether it adequately covers the project scope, Discussions will be undertaken with the sponsor and stakeholders to obtain their views on project objectives, deliverables, delivery plan and cost. This will provide an indication 0f the buy-in and commitment amongst the senior executives and the consistency of their expectations.
  2. The business requirements – Ensure that they adequately reflect the project definition, with an emphasis on whether the requirements are clear and concise and that all organisational functions impacted by the project were involved in their drafting.
  3. Project governance – Assess whether the decision making framework is logical and robust. For example are all key decision makers participants in the steering group and do they attend, does this group meet on a regular basis and receive informed reports on project status, issues, risks and other project related matters? Does the project team meet on a regular basis to review progress? Are issues raised and potential solutions discussed with the relevant personnel prior to a formal project meeting, avoiding senior personnel being taken by surprise in learning about bad news in a formal forum.
  4. Project plan – Determine how realistic it is? Is it just a Gantt chart or is it a more comprehensive document defining approach, execution and control with precise milestones, deliverables and activities. Does it explain how to manage quality, risk, change and other project related dynamics?, Has a critical path analysis been conducted and are the time horizons achievable? Is the plan being managed effectively and are risks and issues being logged and appropriately controlled?
  5. Project team – Gauge whether sufficient resources have been allotted to the project and that it contains the right mix of internal and external staff, with the appropriate combination of complementary professional, technical and specialist skills and whether their estimated involvement is realistic. Have roles and responsibilities been clearly designated and what is the commitment and dedication of the team. Is the team spirit and morale low and is the turnover of project staff high? Are good leadership and teamwork qualities in evidence across the project components?
  6. Change management processes – Determine the robustness of the change management process. Are too many scope changes being introduced? If so this would indicate that the initial scoping document was not as comprehensive as it should have been and the original specification was ambiguous. Is the project accepting too many small changes which, on their own, are relatively simple, but holistically have a detrimental impact on delivery?
  7. Communication – Ensure that there is a communication plan whereby all parties associated with the project are kept in the loop. Does it include not only the sponsors and the team, but also the wider community such as the recipients of the project deliverables or, where relevant, the organisation as a whole? Does it define what needs to be communicated, at what stage and the most appropriate way of doing so?
  8. Project reporting – Assess what metrics are being tracked and measured, how they are reported and, where relevant, how they are acted upon. This will involve a review of all status reports, are they clear, concise and to the point, showing progress, identifying issues and risks and the way forward. Is there a common template structure for the reports to simplify governance? Are all participants fully informed on progress and issues on a timely basis?
  9. Quality assurance – Determine the activities and management processes that are in place to ensure that the project deliverables are at the required quality level and prevent negative surprises. Evidence of constant rework could indicate the existence of poor quality assurance processes and procedures.

Report of findings

Having completed the assessment, Ownet will analyse the data it has collected and draft a report which will identify the causes of the project deficiencies such as incomplete project planning, inadequate tracking, lack of quality control etc. and discuss the findings with the project sponsor and other stakeholders where appropriate. This is normally a two-step process, one to substantiate each of the findings, the second to present a recovery plan with remedial measures to successfully complete the project.

Preparation of the project recovery plan

The project recovery plan, which given the circumstances will be subject to rigorous scrutiny, will be developed to show the steps that are necessary to get the project back on track with the focus on correcting the project deficiencies, particularly implementing better project management processes, improved resource management and the introduction of more effective budget control. It will explain whether it is a quick turnaround or a lengthy process and include decision options on whether the recovery project is part of the existing project or operates in parallel and transitions to the main project on completion.

It will tackle sensitive topics such as whether existing project team members should be maintained or replaced. This will vary by project, but in Ownet’s experience, using the existing team alongside a focused recovery project manager giving clear direction is normally sufficient to motivate the team and accomplish the work.

Implementing a recovery plan

The priority in any recovery plan is to get the project back on track in a timely manner. It will not try and re-invent the wheel and invariably will involve use of the existing project management processes where feasible, addressing and updating the areas where deficiencies were identified. It will include performance targets to control activities and management metrics to track progress and identify issues on a timely basis. There must be a communication plan to keep the project sponsor and stakeholders advised on progress and frequent dialogue with senior project personnel to maintain their commitment.

Recovering a failing project can be a daunting challenge, but if planned and executed successfully is a very rewarding experience. The methodology is fairly straightforward, identify the deficiencies, prepare a robust plan and implement it in a disciplined manner and above all communicate to all associated parties on a timely basis. If this simple methodology is followed the chances of success will be good.

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