You have been assigned a problem project (over budget, behind schedule, team morale is low, stakeholders are unhappy, etc), so what do you do? You will naturally want to dig in and get busy with day-to-day tasks, but that’s the worst thing you can do.
Here are the steps you should follow to correct a Problem Project:
Step 1: 10,000 Foot View
Your first task is to look at the project at a high level. Try to understand the project goals, scope, timeline, resources, and risks. At this stage, you should not be concentrating on requirements, status reports, decisions, conflicts, etc.
Step 2: Formulate your own opinion
Before you talk with all the stakeholders, try to formulate your personal opinion. When you are in the middle of a crisis, you often develop tunnel vision and may skim over simple solutions. Therefore, form your own opinion on what the major issues are and what can be done to correct them. Obviously, your original opinion may change the more you learn about the project.
Step 3: Talk to Stakeholders
Talk with project stakeholders and get their version of why the project is in trouble and what corrective actions they suggest. Avoid putting everyone in the same room, talk with individuals and smalls groups.
Step 4: Reset High-Level Goals and Objectives
If original goals and objectives were achievable you would not be in this position, so naturally, project goals and objectives need to be reconsidered. Be realistic, because from this point on you are taking ownership of the project. Also, this may be your only chance to reset expectations, so think carefully and set challenging but achievable goals and objectives.
Step 5: Reprioritize Tasks
Your objective is to find high-value tasks with low resource input. Ask yourself, which tasks consume most resources but add little value? Conversely, which tasks have high value but are resource starved? In summary, you are trying to identify quick wins and allocate sufficient resources to complete them. Also, 1) ensure everyone on the team takes ownership of their tasks, and 2) has clear and measurable short-term (e.g. weekly) goals.
Step 6: Improve Team Moral and Performance
By reprioritizing tasks correctly, and achieving a few quick wins, you will automatically improve your team’s morale. Also, you want your high performing team members in a fishbowl – where everyone can see them; this will naturally drive the rest of the team forward. You should also consider switching roles and responsibilities around. Reward high performance with more responsibility, and limit the responsibility of low performing team members. Finally, you cannot have a high performing team with constant roadblocks, so remove all barriers and impediments as quickly as possible.
Step 7: Monitor and Control
At this point, you should be settling into your day-to-day project management responsibilities.
In summary, most problem projects can be corrected, but they do require a shock to the system. Therefore, small corrections (e.g. redefining scope, reprioritizing tasks, etc.) by themselves are not enough to fix a problem project. However, if you follow the steps above you will give your stakeholders and your team the best chance to succeed.