4 Steps to Turning Around a Failing Project

At one point or another, almost every project takes a turn for the worse. This might be a small issue, a nagging dissatisfaction or it might be a catastrophic event leaving everyone involved scrambling to pick up the pieces. No matter what the case, it’s up to the project’s manager to recognize the first signs of danger and work quickly to turn things around as soon as possible. Every project is different, but the process of saving one is always the same. Whenever you are faced with the grim specter of defeat, remember these four simple steps to get back on course.

1. Identify the Problem

Before anything else can be done, the cause of the impending failure must be identified and isolated. This is not as easy as you might think. Often, project managers mistake a side-effect for a problem and attack it, leaving the deeper issue to fester and cause more troubles later. You must be able to look past the symptoms to see the disease itself.

Start by looking over the primary objective of the project and other associated goals. What do you want to accomplish? Seeing where you need to go may highlight what has gone wrong. It could be two team members who are in constant disagreement, a funding shortage or a lack of necessary skill to overcome an obstacle. Whatever the core difficulty is, write it down in clear terms for later reference.

2. Consider Several Solutions

Write down the problem again on a clean sheet of paper and gather as many members of the project as possible to begin brainstorming solutions. Note all of them, even the more ludicrous ones, and give everyone an opportunity to speak up. The best answer is not always the most obvious one, and this will provide a chance to begin weighing the pros and cons of each.

3. Implement One

Once you have at least five courses of action, begin crossing them off one by one. You may need to add certain aspects of a plan to another, but in the end there should only be one decision. This keeps things simple and will make implementation easier. It also prevents division among the team and offers a coherent view of the future. Begin making changes as quickly as possible, but don’t be hasty. It can take a while to fully correct past mistakes, and trying to rush the recovery may prove to be worse than doing nothing at all.

4. Move Forward

Finally, once you have made your choice, stick to it. It’s alright to monitor progress and adjust as needed, but scrapping one plan after another leads nowhere and will bring all progress to a halt. Determine the right correction early so that you won’t need to make drastic changes later. With any luck, things will begin to improve and you will see your project moving forward once more. Go back occasionally to insure that the original problem is not showing up again, and always keep an eye out for new difficulties. Most long-term projects go through several major setbacks, and some arise from complacency after the first.

Failure is common and sometimes inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be the end of a project. A good manager learns through experience to remain calm, consider the situation thoughtfully and then pull the team out of the fire with as few burns as possible. Until then, following these four steps can help develop your instincts and protect your own project from an untimely demise, whether due to poor leadership, sudden calamity or simple bad luck. And, when you feel like calling it quits, remember that no scenario is hopeless until you yourself have given up hope.