Houston, we have a problem

Most organisations use projects to implement change and that makes sense to most people. They are the vehicles that enable you to gather resources and activity to make things happen. Unfortunately, projects do not always go to plan, sometimes they get worse to the point that not only are they late or over budget, but they may not even achieve their objectives. These projects are often referred to as out of tolerance, showing distress or needing recovery. But how do you approach this new problem?

For the sponsors of a project this can create many dilemmas and it can be easy to convince yourself that you are worrying unnecessarily, just give it a bit longer or I am sure it will be ok in the end. And then you worry about your relationship with the team or what will my bosses say if I give them bad news. These are all valid points but this is one of the tough challenges that come with the role of being the project sponsor.

So, the first thing is to trust your gut feeling. If you sense that things are not hunky dory, there is a good chance that something needs to change. A problem could be on the horizon. It may not be a wholesale recovery, but trust yourself to challenge your PM or the supply chain to respond to your worries. If it is a minor issue it will take no time to put right and if it is a big issue then the sooner you know the better.

The key next step is to critically review the facts. What does your formal end stage or monthly report tell you and how does it compare to the execution plan? The essential criteria for a good report is that it should be the single source of truth. Don’t get side-tracked that it needs updating or more time to think about – it should be right to start with (and if it isn’t then that tells you something straight away about control).

The next thing is options. There is a good chance once you understand the true current position and forecasted outcome that the project is in exception. This means that it is no longer forecasting to meet the objectives set out in the brief. Therefore, what are your options? How do you approach this problem? This may mean a change of course or it may mean that you need to replace the team or parts of the team to put things right. If you ever doubt the need to make a radical change wind the clock forward six months on the current plan and imagine reporting the position to the Chief Executive. That can be bad. But then imagine the CE asking you if you thought this could happen and did you do anything about it!

Good projects are dull, honest and transparent – they are not a rollercoaster. Even with bad news the team should get the management information in front of you (with some ideas of what to do about it). Bad teams do not tell the truth or they omit key facts. Their optimism is not well founded or reasonable. Their contract of employment or terms of engagement require that they report the truth and do not risk the project or wider business entity. It will probably cost you some time and money to stop the bus and change route, but as the saying goes “better a fool for five minutes than one for life”.

Scroll to Top