Recovering from a Poorly Planned Project

Planning. Plan to succeed. “Plans are nothing...planning is everything.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower.

You’ve heard the sayings …. “planning is everything” …. “poor planning leads to 80% of all failures”, “plan now, save later”, etc.

So to avoid the failures, enjoy the successes, and reap the career benefits of successful projects, you vow to always include enough up front planning in your projects. You won’t budge on that issue. And if the customer hasn’t planned enough heading into the engagement, then you try your hardest to put the brakes on and give them time to do that necessary planning before risking getting the project off on the wrong foot.

So with all this appropriate effort going into up front planning on your projects, what if even that isn’t enough? We know many studies show that 50-75% of all projects fail to some degree or another. It’s not likely that they all fail only due to poor planning. In fact we know that is not the case. So what happens when good planning just isn’t enough? What else can you do to save your projects? What else could you have done to help ensure project success?

From my experience, it’s very difficult to recover from a poorly planned or kicked off project. I’d like to think that none of my projects have been poorly planned, but I can say for certain that I have taken over projects that were not well planned out and were in trouble when I came on board. There are three actions you can attempt to take – likely best taken in the order I’ve set out below – to try to increase your overall chances of still achieving a successful project outcome…

Stop and re-plan. I personally believe in – and find the most success with – putting a work stoppage or major slowdown in place on a project that I’ve taken over, is one of the quickest ways to assess the situation and inject some additional much needed planning. Of course, this additional planning would have been better served and cheaper had it happened at the beginning of the project. Undoubtedly, there is going to be some hit to the project budget and probably and even greater hit to the project schedule, but it’s far better to do this now than risk losing the project entirely.

Reset the schedule and customer expectations. The next option involves just accepting the problem and adjusting the schedule accordingly. If the customer isn’t interested in halting the project to perform necessary re-planning, then the next best option is to work hard to reset customer expectations on both schedule and budget and possibly on the quality of the end solution, but that will be a very very hard sell. Get the customer to understand there will be a delay and negotiate with them on budget issues to hopefully keep from having the plug pulled on the project.

Add more bodies. Finally, the old “adding resources” option. Throw more bodies at it. Every seasoned project manager knows that this likely won’t work well. At best it gets the project completed well over budget and probably long past the original due date – hopefully salvaging at least some customer satisfaction. At worse it becomes a behemoth project that devours dollars and days faster than you ever thought possible and becomes about as effective as a BP oil spill disaster plan.

Summary / call for input

It's very hard – and often very costly – to recover from the problems that are caused by not dedicating enough time to planning the project. Sometimes you get lucky, but usually you won't. Readers – what are your thoughts? Have you had problems on engagements when not enough time was dedicated to planning the project?

 

 

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