Getting a Stalled Project to the Finish Line

This is repost. I really would like to remember where I found this and who wrote it. If it is you, comment back and I will add your name!

I’m sure we have all had the experience of working on a project that seems like it will just never end. When that happens each team member has a responsibility to share in ownership of the problem and the solution. In highly analytical environments just getting a project approved or started can seem daunting. Once it is approved, however, tight execution and driving to the finish line should be everyone’s focus.

Why is it then that some projects, even those with solid work invested in them, can’t seem to finish the last five percent of the course?

When a project is stalled project leadership or organizational management have the primary responsibility to get it back on track. What can they do to get it reinvigorated? Let’s start with these:

Ask the hardest question first

What am I doing or not doing that is contributing to the delay? Leadership’s number one responsibility is to remove obstacles to the success of others. Are you really doing that? Are you getting past the happy talk and searching for root causes, then taking ownership for those that only you can effectively mitigate? Better yet, are you the root cause because of indecisiveness or lack of attention?

Use analysis as a decision tool, not an implementation tool

Once the project is authorized and funded the time for analysis paralysis is past. If you did not take the time beforehand to conduct thorough due diligence then it is probably too late to do it now. When projects are approved they come with a schedule that has consequences for late delivery. Post-approval is not the time to be developing options – it is the time to get the project done.

Change the mindset of the project team

If they are bogged down they know it without you telling them, and they likely aren’t feeling very good about it. Here you need to be a bit of a cheerleader while also instilling a new sense of urgency. As a leader you can step in to motivate, assist and remove barriers, but avoid the urge to take over at all costs unless absolutely necessary. Let the team retain accountability for the outcome but help them get to it successfully.

Augment skills or knowledge

You may find that the team has designed a good project but does not have all the skillsets/knowledge it needs to implement it successfully. For example, solving a vexing process issue may require the intimate knowledge of those closest to the process to investigate, process map and re-engineer a solution. As good as that solution may be it is useless if not implemented correctly. If implementation requires technical expertise, say developing or modifying an application, then the team may not have the requisite expertise. Get it for them.

Re-plan the project

Refusing to recognize reality by sticking to a plan that everyone knows is not working only further demoralizes the team and adds unnecessary pressure. This is where leadership must be candid with itself. Take a breath. Recognize reality. Develop a new plan to complete the project from its current state, communicate and vet the plan with the team to achieve their buy-in, then work the plan…and work it hard.

Kill procrastination

If you were too uninvolved in the initial effort then pick up your game. If you were indecisive then make this project a priority and move it along when it is in your own space. Stay better informed and create a sense of urgency by requiring frequent status updates. Ask what the team needs from you to break current deadlocks and then deliver the goods.

Not every project (at least in my world) runs perfectly. That does not mean, however, that they must be unsuccessful in the end. In fact, overcoming the challenges of difficult projects is a big learning tool, experience addition, and character test. Successfully recovering a project in trouble is a big plus in any project manager’s toolkit.

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