In the Project Management profession you will inevitably be given the “opportunity” to assume leadership of a troubled project. This can be a daunting challenge but it can also provide an opportunity to turn around a bad situation.
Often, when that is achieved, the project will be remembered as a great comeback story and less about a project that, at one point, was a troubled project.
First Do an Assessment of the Troubled Project
As a Project Manager it’s important that you do a few things right from the start. First, meet with all stakeholders and all team members and find out what everyone thinks the problems are and why it’s a troubled project.
Don’t forget to include your management and don’t be shy about having a frank interview with the customer to get their side of the story. Take good notes.
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By doing this, you should start to see patterns emerge regarding what the problems are. Pay particular attention to what the customer is seeing and saying. Let them know that your plan is to quickly assimilate the project health and status and put action plans in place to steer the project back on track.
This is a chance to create internal and external allies. It also provides the opportunity to establish trust, provided you are timely, communicative and execute on correction plans.
If it is possible, see if you can talk with the previous Project Manager and get their perspective on what the problems are and why it became a troubled project. You may not be able to do this, obviously, if the previous leader is no longer available to speak to.
But, if they’re still around and it makes sense, it’s a good idea to hear their side of the story. Often times they can pinpoint exactly what’s going on. Be careful, as they may have been removed from the position involuntarily. You’ll need to make a judgment call.
Once you have your list of problems, turn that into a project issue and/or risk list. Remember, a risk is a potential problem that hasn’t happened yet and an issue is a problem that has. Today’s risks will become tomorrow’s issues if not mitigated.
Take your lists and develop corrective action plans for each item with assignments as to who needs to do what and when. You may find that some items may not have just one possible solution. There could be different approaches to solve the concern and you will need to work through those approaches to find consensus on the best approach.
Turn Trouble Into Buy-In
Now that you have your lists, actions, approaches and assignments, it’s time to take that to the stakeholders for their buy-in. You might find that some of the problems are owned by the customer and they can help you to resolve them.
By getting buy-in from all the stakeholders you will create a team atmosphere and hopefully everyone will rally around the cause and support your corrective action plans.
Turn That Troubled Project Around!
Finally, execute on the plans. Get the team onboard, demonstrate you have stakeholder buy-in and get the team moving towards correction. While this is occurring, take the opportunity to re-plan and re-baseline the project schedule and have plans in place to return to back-to-normal execution once the corrective actions are implemented. The back-to-normal plan should ramp up as the corrective action plan winds down. From there, deliver, deliver, deliver, and take the project to closure.