Posted on December 17, 2012 · Posted in Management, Project Management, Risk, Risk Management, Tips and Tricks

We’ve all been there at least once. The moment you get that phone call or email, and the project first turns the corner, and starts on the downward spiral to failure. What do you do? What is the best course of action when projects start to fail?

Unfortunately professional project managers, regardless of knowledge, experience, or background, all experience failure from time to time…and we hate it. While we can’t always predict failure or avoid it, there are tactics we can do to help it. Some of these tactics include some of what we already know, such as putting together risk response and management plans, holding regular team planning meetings, and practicing good document control.

However, there are things that can come up and happen at the last minute that can send a project down hill. Here are some best courses of action on how project managers can deal with failing projects:

1. Don’t Panic. When you receive a problematic email or phone call from a customer, team member, or sales rep, the first thing you should not do is panic. This can be difficult, especially if the person on the other line or that has written the email is emotional in some way. Your response should be calm and address the situation.

If you don’t have a solution right at that moment, at least respond to the email or phone call and let him or her know that you are looking into the situation and will get back to them as soon as possible. If needed, take a time out and go for a walk to help clear your mind. While you may think it’s not the best time to take a walk, giving yourself a minute to calm down and think about the situation could be your best asset. Addressing the situation with a clear head and a fresh state of mind can really help.

2. Check the Schedule. Once you have addressed the concerns, informed the customer, sales rep, and team, the next step should be addressing the schedule. What stage is the project at? Where is the project? How will this change impact the schedule in terms of project milestones and deliverables?

3. Devise a Solution. Once you have taken care of the first two items, now it’s time to put together a solution. Again, what is the concern at hand? How will it impact the schedule? How will it impact deliverables? Sometimes a solution cannot solve all three of these items. For instance, making a change in the late stage of a project may impact the schedule and risk on time delivery of a particular product, which could lead to an angry customer. However, it is best to work with the customer to see if negotiating on any level is possible.

All in all, there may be many reasons to cause a project to fail. They may not even be necessarily linked to a customer, there could be internal factors as well such as staffing, technology, or even lack of resources. However, these typically can be addressed during the risk management and assessment stage at the beginning of a project.

By practicing the above steps to address a failing project, and keeping these in mind while you are working, you will be able to address the signs of project failure and respond to them immediately. The customer and your team will thank you for it, and will ultimately lead to overall project success.

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