A Workable Approach to Fix Distressed Projects

July 5, 2019

Every project is conceived and executed with the intention of creating a positive influence for the business, whether its goal is to increase profits, cut costs, improve operational efficiency, gain competitive edge or customer satisfaction. As is well known, they often run into problems with seemingly no easy way out. May be the project is way behind schedule, over budget, suffers from quality issues, team morale is low, there is high resource turn over, business confidence is low or for many other reasons. It reached a point where the present situation just cannot continue anymore and your job is to correct it and take it down the path of success. You can’t right a wrong unless you determine conclusively what went wrong and what corrective and preventive measures you need to take going forward. This article attempts to identify some problem areas and corrective approaches to undertake in such times.

Problem symptoms

Let’s review some typical problem areas.

1. Organizational immaturity – The organization simply may not have the requisite project management setup, experience or knowledge of tools to undertake projects of complex nature. Like a fish out of water.

2. Mismanagement or incompetency – Vested interests, politics, competing priorities, infighting, lack of cooperation can derail any project or simply, people in decision making roles just don’t fit the bill.

3. Improper Solution analysis – Not selecting the most appropriate solution due to in sufficient alternate solution analysis.

4. Incomplete scope or high number of change requests – In their unbridled enthusiasm to get the project going quickly, inexperienced managements may jump onto development phase with incomplete scope or affect changes constantly to it in the middle. They may be under the misconception they can add additional requirements as needed. Unbeknown to them, this mistake will cause a whole gamut of changes to all plans later on in the project cycle.

5. Risk management – Known risks were either ignored or not handled properly.

6. Insufficient planning – Greater importance given to execution rather than various project management plans either due to lack of project management knowledge or belief.

7. Underestimating work or over commitment on deliverables – Not enough effort in prototyping, understanding of project specific requirements, objective analysis of organizational capabilities and setting deadlines based on generic analogous estimations can cause havoc with realistic scheduling.

8. Resource knowledge gaps and inexperience – Results in incomplete solution, high number of issues at each stage and an unstable system. Team members may not have the competency skills to execute the tasks given to them.

9. Breakdown in processes – Project teams not following established, agreed processes for a variety of reasons, ranging from lack of proper training and conviction about their importance or just not disciplined enough to follow them.

10. High team turnover – Loss of productivity due to high turnover is significant and usually results in severe execution challenges or even complete project failure. This is especially true of project teams mixed with high percentage of consultants who may come and leave at regular frequency in the middle of project. Ill-informed managers mistakenly think it just a head count issue. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are several key skills you look for in an individual to build a successful team: knowledge, experience, problem solving, commitment, perseverance, attitude, communication skills, to name some. It takes significant time, effort and cost to find and get them to a productive stage.

11. Development issues – Lack of functional/technical expertise, training, common development environment, technology stack, to name some. Developers taking shortcuts and creating redundant software by ignoring published standards cause dual maintenance which is a known common source of bugs. Lack of coordination between Business analysts (BA) and developers during development and unit testing phase. Using informal discussions, rather than formal, approved and signed documents as basis for development. Developers suffering from tunnel vision syndrome, lack overall solution knowledge and cannot do proper impact analysis during design and change requests, there by introducing bugs.

12. Integration issues – Unit and functional testing done in an isolated fashion rather than in an integrated system environment can cause severe issues which may only be caught later in QA cycle at which point, the cost of fix is much higher.

13. Communication breakdown – Lack of prompt dissemination about project status, open issues, milestones, and action items will surely cause confusion, loss of confidence on outcome.

14. Solution delivery issues – Delivered content did not meet approved scope, has obvious gaps due to missed requirements, does not have logical business flow, suffers from poor presentation (user interface), is non-user friendly, has too many bugs, is unstable, does not scale well on high volume data, has poor user response time, installation and/or patching process is difficult or takes unacceptably long time.

15. Insufficient User training – Users may be confused or unable to make full use of the system due to insufficient training, incomplete documentation and helpdesk causing severe dissatisfaction, negative perception about solution even when it meets the business needs completely as per project goals.

16. Wrong Mindset – A work culture and atmosphere where mistakes are routinely accepted as part and parcel of business rather than an exception will only result in more of the same. Quality issues and constant rework will throw all well thought out plans off the track.

While the above list contains many common, well known issues with troubled projects, it is by no means complete. Each project may encounter its own unique set of challenges depending on the industry, company, culture, team, etc… A PM should come up with such a list specific to his/her project.

Remember, the successful execution of the project depends on the PM, and he/she should be in control of it all the time.

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