Posted on November 20, 2015 · Posted in Agile, Leadership, Management, Tips and Tricks

Everyone faces failure in their lives. It doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do, no project manager has ever gone through their career without seeing a project fail. It’s devastating, and you always wonder how it could have happened. To help you prevent this and save a project that is starting to go downhill, here are my top 7 tips on how to deal with a failing project.

  • Be prepared

The best project managers will not only plan for success, but failure as well. Naturally, everyone wants their project to succeed and they work hard to make sure it does, but there will be times when certain things are simply beyond your control.

One of the best ways to anticipate and prepare for situations like this is to have a strategy for how you would react to failure. Make sure to have a plan for spotting the problem early, dealing with the consequences, and of course the financial repercussions. This will give you a safety net and a clear road map of what to do.

If you need some help with this, Activia Training has some great courses that give an introduction to project management, and which cover effective project planning, as well as spotting and dealing with potential risks.

  • Watch out for the warning signs

It’s important to watch out for the warning signs and plan your exits at every stage of the project. More experienced project managers will recognise these early signs and know how to be cautious. Things such as unexpected and unexplainable delays, stressed team members, or unusually slow progress will, for example, make them sit up and take notice.

If you know these warning signs and act quickly enough, you can stop a failure from happening. And even if you can’t prevent failure, you can at least pull out before the damage is too extensive.

  • Set up an assessment meeting

As soon as the project starts to go downhill, gather your team members and conduct a meeting. Make sure to open the lines of communication and invite suggestions from your team members, and get their perspective on what went wrong.

Go over the project and asses every step you and your team took. This meeting is one of the best and most important steps you can take because, if it’s executed properly, it’ll stop you from making the same mistakes in the future even if this particular project can’t be saved.

  • No excuses, no blame

When a project fails, it’s natural for people to look for someone to blame. However, this is not the right way to deal with the situation and you need to actively discourage this from the beginning. Everyone should accept that, unfortunately, errors do happen and it’s much better to learn from them and move on than start blaming each other.

On the other hand, what you should encourage among your team is accountability. For example, if someone feels like they made a mistake, they need to step up and let everyone else know. This article from Developer Fusion talks about this – as well as common excuses for project failure – in more detail.

  • Focus on improvement

As I mentioned before, the focus shouldn’t be on blaming others, or the fact that the project is failing. You need to focus on what you can do to avoid similar problems in the future. If you think miscommunication within the team was responsible for the failure of the project, arrange for better communication workshops and training. You need to look at all the weaknesses that lead to project failure and come up with ways to improve them.

  • Keep a note of the things you’ve learned

One of the best ways to improve your future projects is to keep a detailed note of all the things that went wrong with previous projects that failed, and come up with ways to improve them.

You can use this experience to improve training methods and teach new employees as well, which would reduce the likelihood of the mistakes happening again. Sensible PM has a great list of things you can learn from these projects and how exactly you can use these to your advantage.

  • Reuse and recycle

If there is no way to save your project, think about what areas of your project you can reuse for some other job. It makes no sense to discard something you’ve dedicated so much time and effort to if it can be reused for a different project. Identify these things and set them aside. If you find a project you can fit them in later on, the effort won’t go to waste.

Can you think of any other ways to deal with a failing projects? Let us know in the comments below.

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