It is well known that projects with any level of complexity are highly likely to exceed their budget or deadline. But if your project is heading in that direction, what is the best way to get it back on track?
A project that is out of control, either in respect of the budget or the schedule, will not get back on track without some serious effort and commitment on the part of the individuals involved in the project and the organisation carrying out the project. Fortunately there are three simple ways to help the project manager regain control over a project and rescue it from failure:
Determine the current status
Review all tasks and activities so that you can determine exactly where the project stands with regard to the actual schedule and actual budget. Ignore any previously estimated costs and times and concentrate on determining the actual status. Review all available reports and talk to team members to explain that you want to know exactly what progress has been made irrespective of any previous estimates, promises or commitments. It is fundamental to regaining control of the project that you start from a known baseline. That way the re-planning has the best chance of success and you can, hopefully, avoid the project turning into a disaster.
If you didn’t try to determine and document all assumptions, the obvious and not so obvious, in the early stages of the project, now is the time to do so. This is not the time to be enthusiastic about the end result as it is probably clear to all concerned that there are major problems with the project. But it is vital now to be persistent and ensure all assumptions are known and documented.
And don’t just reassess the status of the project in terms of time and budget, also reassess the available resources in terms of skills and people. Are the strengths and weaknesses of the team the same as they were at the beginning of the project? If not take this into account in the re-planning and re-scheduling. And make sure everyone knows that you intend this project to be a success, don’t allow an air of failure to creep in or the project certainly will fail.
Re-affirm the project aim
There would have originally been a vision that ensured commitment to the project, secured funding and enabled the project to get off the ground. It is a project manager’s role to remind people of the original vision and try and reignite some of the enthusiasm with which the project started. The business aim should have been clearly defined and documented at the start of the project but if this was not the case then now is the time to rectify that particular problem. This will help to remind people of the benefits of the completed project, for them as individuals as well as for the organisation.
Involve people in the project and ensure they know the importance of each task they complete in the overall success of the project. Inspire the team and make every member feel valued. That might sound like trite motivational-speak but it really is vital to ensure a project remains controlled and ends in success.
Decide how to achieve the project aim
So you have thoroughly assessed where the project stands with respect to the budget, the schedule, the people and their skills. You know, and have communicated and reinforced, the business aim, the vision of the completed project to all the team member and all other stakeholders. The next step is to plan how to get from where you are now to a completed and successful project.
It may be that some of the factors that have thrown the project off course in the first place still exist so there may be little cause for optimism when it comes to re-planning to the end of the project. But plan you must – if necessary the project status may need to be reassessed and re-planned again in a few weeks or months time. But in order to move forward effectively you must plan a full schedule now.
In some industry sectors such as IT, which are rapidly changing and which can have a high turnover of staff it is practically impossible to plan a project from start to finish that will not need to be reassessed and re-planned at various stages throughout the project. Do not let the fact that this happens instill a sense of failure into the team. In some industries this is normal and a highly detailed plan is unlikely to proceed without a hitch on a complex project. Finances and other resources can change during the course of a long project and a vital project management skill is knowing how to regain control of a project affected by unforeseen circumstances. Treat such things as an opportunity to re-enthuse the team and remind everyone of the initial vision of the project then move forward to that successful completion. Professional project management courses in internationally recognised qualifications such as PMP Certification, APMP or PRINCE2 can assist with training and advice on the best way to handle such situations.