Bouncing back

VOICES | Project Toolkit

When a project is canceled, it can hurt to see all that hard work go to waste. We asked practitioners:

Take Care of the Team

"In many cases, unless a project is way over budget, very much behind schedule, or failing miserably in meeting the quality standards, the team may not see it coming and it may hurt their egos. But a good project leader can help soften the blow. When the project is killed, the project manager must be transparent with the team. He or she must tell the team why the project was killed and thank them for the value they created for the organization by working on it. If the organization does not have a skills database, this would be a good time to create one. This will help team members walk away with a clear understanding of their skills and competencies that make them valuable.

Above all, it's critical that the team be reassigned to new projects quickly, so that they don't start to question their value to the organization. Once they question their value, they will start to look for jobs elsewhere.”

—Dan Furlong, PMI-ACP, PMP, project management officer, office of the CIO, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, USA


Reflect Objectively

"Candid retrospection helps identify the root cause of the failure and also helps in identifying if the situation was in our control or not.

One of the projects I worked on was terminated because of the acquisition of our customer and a change in product strategy by the client's new management team. We made our team aware of the situation and the potential impact. Transparency and openness helped us work together to look at the situation objectively rather than just from an emotional aspect.”

—Rahul Sudame, PMI-ACP, PMP, account manager, Persistent Systems, Pune, India

Catch the Rebound

"Rebounding is not an easy task for the project manager, especially if he or she believed in the project and was sure it would succeed. I rebound strongly if I understand the reason behind killing the project. When I am convinced, according to the facts, that the project was not beneficial versus its cost, then I will rebound quickly. This helps me explain it to my team, which will help all of us move past this project and focus on a new project and new opportunities.

If the project was killed without reasonable cause, then I will do my best to understand what the alternatives and opportunities are and focus on them. I will navigate my team to focus on good alternatives too. I do my best to steer my team's aspiration toward the positives of the new project and avoid looking back to the past. I am also careful with stakeholder expectation and take proactive steps to get updates from the project sponsor.”

—Saleh Sultan, PMP, project manager, mapping and location intelligence business HERE, Nokia, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Sometimes, a project's failure is out of the team's hands. But smart practices can help organizations avoid coming up short.


Ongoing training for project managers


Formal process to develop project manager competency


Formal knowledge transfer process


Defined career path for project managers


Highly effective knowledge transfer process


% successful projects with item in place


% successful projects without item in place

Source: Pulse of the Profession®: Capturing the Value of Project Management

Start Fresh

"The project manager and his or her team need to get up, dust off and look for other possibilities. They should look for any further oncoming damages and document what they learned from the project.

A seasoned project manager would also see if it would be possible to restart the killed project from scratch, but from a different angle. If that's not possible, look for other projects where the team can be utilized effectively. Also, if the project was killed and passed on to a different vendor outside the organization to undertake the same project, the project manager can look at how the core deliverables could be utilized and converted into a support project, thereby creating a new project.”

—Rajaram Chinnakkan, project manager, EFC Group, Aberdeen, Scotland

Close the Loop

"A killed project does not differ from a planned project close other than that the transition from project activity to closeout is unexpected. But the killing of the project does not inhibit proper recognition of outstanding project work, efforts and achievements.

Do not skip face-to-face closeout meetings. Share root causes for project closeout. Acknowledge individual and group efforts and achievements, and give recommendations to future project managers according to performance and merit.”

—Eur Ing Hernán D´Adamo, PMP, CEO, Grupo Arquithal, Arrecife, Spain

Comeback Kids

Share your tips for bouncing back on the PMI Project, Program and Portfolio Management LinkedIn Group.

Own Up to It

"In my experience, a project being killed means I, as the project manager, didn't properly scope the project or keep a good grasp on the health of the project.

I find that if I am more confident in evaluating any mistakes I made, my communication to the project team is much clearer. Being humble and willing to admit when a mistake was made will make it easier for the team to re-engage in the project and also give them faith in the project management process. After all, no one is perfect.”

—Christina Umbreit, project manager, Agnesian HealthCare, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, USA

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