Project Management Institute

The four p's

Four techniques for powering a failing project toward success.


Have you ever been handed a failing project or struggled to complete one? I once took over a project that was spiraling toward failure. It was behind schedule (little had been achieved since its inception six months earlier), the project team was not communicating or working together effectively, and there was no rapport between the previous project manager and the client. However, I was able to remedy the situation by applying the four “P” techniques that I’d used in previous projects.

1. Productive Team Communication

Conducting regular status meetings and building a rapport with the project team are critical to achieving success. These meetings should be about more than reviewing the status of tasks—they’re an opportunity to discuss challenges and risks. Multiple perspectives contribute to a more comprehensive product and can help resolve any problems that arise. To build team rapport, I ask for a member to share a joke or funny story at the conclusion of every meeting. This levity is especially important when managing a virtual team: We may not be in the same room, but we can still have fun together. After the meeting, I distribute meeting minutes and action items, to ensure accountability and progress.

2. Positive and Negative Client Communication

No one likes to give a client bad news. But delivering both the good and the bad gives the project manager credibility with a client. Being direct and up front with a client about delays or problems leads to open and honest communication, which promotes a healthy and trusting relationship. It also gives the client the opportunity to provide a different perspective and identify solutions while addressing schedule delays, budget concerns or the resolution of risks. If there is bad news, project managers should frame it as an opportunity to assess what is going on, and then reset the client’s expectations through a new plan. Don’t deliver bad news empty-handed; offer options to your client and guide him or her to the most appropriate option.

3. Persistence

More often than not I’m nicknamed “Hound” while managing a project. While some might be offended by this, I claim the name as a badge of honor. Whether you’re nudging your team members or your client, persistence pays off (though sometimes it takes longer than you’d like). The action item list that comes out of weekly status meetings, for example, is a good tool to hold your team or client accountable. Of course, reminders—whether delivered in person, via email or over the phone—are a go-to mechanism to prod people and encourage ontime delivery.

4. Passion

If you exude passion, your team members are more likely to follow suit. Leading by example matters when managing projects: It is easier to emulate a passionate project manager than a disgruntled one. But be careful not to be emotional; always lead with a calming demeanor.

Whether you’re nudging your team members or your client, persistence pays off (though sometimes it takes longer than you’d like).

Turning around the troubled project I took over was undoubtedly a team effort, but these four “P” techniques enabled me to successfully lead the project across the finish line. The experience was a reminder of the techniques’ effectiveness in difficult situations and also how valuable they’ve been to my career as a project manager. While I may not be able to quantify the value of these techniques, I can say with confidence that they’ve helped build my reputation as a project manager who can turn a challenging project into a success in any environment. PM

Yael Cohen, PMP, is a project manager at Lewis Fowler in Denver, Colorado, USA.

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