When the project needs to end – Part 1

Project failure isn’t something we set out for – but it just happens and sometimes we can’t do anything about it.  Yes, sometimes we screwed up.  Or our team screwed up.  Or the project was a no-win situation from the beginning and we didn’t see it or we were in denial or we thought we could “give it a go.”

But, no project manager ever starts out an engagement thinking, “I hope this project tanks.”  It’s just not part of our human nature.  That said there are just times when a project is beyond saving or two sides simply aren’t going to get to a point of mutual agreement on the outstanding issues.  It may become clear at that point that moving forward is in no one’s best interest.  How we close down such a project is probably something to be discussed in another article.  I will make not of that and address that soon.  But right now I’d like to look at some of the signs that can be indicators that the project may need to be laid to rest.  Or at least halted until more information is available, better requirements are defined, a business structure has changed making the project goals clearer, or personnel who are getting in the way of progress are turned over.

As you read through my thoughts on reasons a project may just need to be put to rest, please be thinking about your own reasons or possibly a project failure you experienced from your past and let’s discuss.  For the purposes of discussion here, I’ve narrowed it down to four general reasons that I’ve either experienced or witnessed others go through that are signs that a project may have jumped the shark and needs to be put out of its misery… 

Creep of the project scope can’t be stopped

I’m not talking here about small disagreements in where the line in the sand needs to be drawn in terms of project scope.  There are rare cases where the kickoff meeting happens and you move into planning with the customer and what you thought was a ‘defined’ project has turned into a mess.  The customer expected ‘x’ and you planned to deliver ‘y.’  Sometimes it’s an issue that started during the sales process and wasn’t glaringly obvious until the skilled resources who truly understand the solution are sitting down with the customer and planning out the implementation.  This is where the tire meets the road – often really for the first time – and the customer says, “wait, that’s not what I was told by Sales.”  Or, “I was told I could have this for free and now you’re telling me that’s an 200 hour effort?”  Sometimes these situations can be handled through negotiation and sometimes they can’t.  When they can’t and it’s become obvious that you’re at a stalemate, it’s likely time to call the project off or place it on hold until clear and decisive plans can be made.

Future project phases are being questioned or canceled

This one may not be cause to actually cancel the remainder of the project, but it is likely time to implement what you have, assuming you’ve got a workable solution through the phases already rolled out, and leave the rest of the project until the work is better defined.  Customer priorities and infrastructure changes can cause future phases of a project to come into question.  Are they still needed?  Should the order of the phases be changed?  It’s nearly impossible to keep your expensive project resources intact while the customer takes two months to decide so it’s usually a good stopping point to give the customer a chance to regroup and figure out how they want to spend the rest of their project dollars – and if they even want and need to.

That’s two of my four.  In part 2 of this two part series we will look at my other two general areas:  When we hit the ceiling of project funding and there is no more money, and when the customer side of the project seems like a revolving door and it’s difficult or impossible to get the necessary customer focus directed toward your project.



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