Turnaround Artist

Project Leaders Can Help Peers Craft a Strategy to Revive a Failing Project


By Marat Oyvetsky, PMP

Projects falter for a variety of reasons. Whether the root of the problem is delays, budget constraints, scope shifts or a poorly aligned team, turning a project around goes beyond simple analysis and resolution techniques. Rescuing a failing project requires a collaborative team with solid communication skills working toward a common project vision and execution. This is even more vital when the project you are trying to save is not under your direct leadership or control.


When helping someone else's struggling project get its footing, I've learned that it's generally best to start at the beginning. However, this doesn't mean trying to dissect the project to understand what went wrong. Rather than focusing on why the project is failing or who is responsible for its problems, start by identifying the project basics, including its goal, scope, stakeholders, key success factors, communication plan and accomplishments so far.

Next, take these two steps to start on the road to success:

1. Meet individually with each team member, including the project manager leading the project, before meeting as a group. Take great care when working with the project manager; he or she needs reassurance that you are there to help, not take the project away.

2. Create bite-sized milestones that will advance the project and create a sense of accomplishment for the team. Until now, the project and the team have been on a downward trajectory. Tensions are probably high, and team members are ready to lay blame. Creating attainable steps that will contribute to project success will help rebuild the team's confidence.



Turning a failing project around when you lack formal oversight is a sensitive and tricky process. You need to walk a fine line between leading and providing guidance. You have to advise without criticizing and enact change without formal power.

One way to do this is to make the team part of creating the plan to success. Among other benefits, this encourages the team to start communicating effectively again. Another way is to lead by example. Make yourself available to the team as much as possible. This gives the team access to an impartial observer who was not part of the project's initial issues.

Helping a failing project succeed is like putting a difficult puzzle back together. The pieces still form a complete picture, but guiding them all into their proper places at times feels impossible—and it's probably going to take more time and attention than initially expected. PM

img Marat Oyvetsky, PMP, is program director at Trace3, San Diego, California, USA.



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