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Getting the Project Intervention Started

“The final buy-in from the executive sponsor will usually be given based on the personal commitment of the rescue manager. Regardless of how the situation arose, the executive sponsor now wants to hear something like ‘I guarantee that this project will succeed.’ The sponsor will also want to continue hearing this message from the rescue manager throughout the intervention.”

“A lot of pressure is on the rescue manager, who instead needs to replace the sponsor’s perspective, with something similar to the following words: ‘We have assessed the situation and now have a plan we can implement. But we do not know what we do not know and anything new will be brought to the steering committee for immediate resolution.”

“The first message, which may be gratifying to hear, may nonetheless have been the source of problems in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the job to get done; however, the wish leaves a lot of details out of the equation. The phrasing of the guarantee seems to say, ‘Go away and get the job done.’ However, there will still be many questions to ask and decisions to make. Guarantees at this time could prove to be embarrassing and really are meaningless. They only serve to postpone the difficult conversations.”

“The guarantee must be a partnership in which the project rescue manager and the executive sponsor(s) agree to make the project a success, and then work collaboratively toward the positive outcome. Without this commitment to make important give-and-take decisions together, the project rescue manager is going to encounter significant obstacles getting the difficult things done. The executive sponsor needs to unequivocally demonstrate support for the rescue manager in front of the rest of the organization.”

“The second message, as stated by the rescue manager, tends to take a more conservative approach that will make the listener uncomfortable. The executive sponsor will be happy that qualified words such as ‘very’, ‘may’, and ‘should’ are not being used. However, there will be discomfort around the use of the words ‘what we don’t know,’ which leaves uncertainty in the equation. But let’s look at this in more detail to see if there truly is more uncertainty.”

“Aritificially guaranteeing a result is more destructive to a project than recognizing that stuff happens and it must be dealt with. The fear of being wrong, the embarrassment of being wrong, and the fear of owning up to a problem are strong contributors to project failure. You definitely do not want to go this way again. By owning up to this uncertainty and embracing it, the rescue manager can provide no stronger impetus to making sure that tough decisions are not avoided. In fact, the total commitment of the rescue manager to the salvage effort is really the stabilizing factor for the executive sponsor.”

“In a significant project that was being watched by Wall Street analysts, a rescue manager build an aggressive plan to salvage a project that involved six different geographical locations. The project had been going on for about a year with three major dealines missed, and the project was beginning to experience very strong negative emotions. This project will be elsewhere in the Project Management Tips area of this website, in a section to be named ‘Experiences and Techniques’. It’s introduced here to highlight how the well-regarded executive sponsor began to subtly demonstrate his support to the rescue manager from the beginning of the initiative, without offending other senior members of the team.”

“After the Assessment and Intervention planning phases were complete, regularly scheduled weekly status meetings were instituted that brought the management team together. The rescue manager and the executive sponsor bonded, but not over the deliverables from the first two phases, but rather over their shared commitment to turn the project around. At the very first status meeting, the executive sponsor sat beside the rescue manager, said nothing, and let the rescue manager walk through the salvage plan with the other technical managers and business stakeholders – who had clearly been involved in the two rescue phases.”

“Everyone in the room naturally looked at the executive sponsor – the focus of true authority – and saw the rescue manager in the same line of sight. It was cleear that the salvage operation was going ahead. Past conflicts, misunderstandings, and arguments were no longer important to the executive sponsor, who was essentially empowering the rescue manager with his authority to turn things around. People could either be part of the solution, or they could go do something else.”

“The two most important enablers of change on a doomed project are the executive sponsor and the rescue manager – the executive sponsor because he or she has the authority to make things happen and the rescue manager because he or she is the catalyst for change. The symbolism of the bonding between the sponsor and the rescue manager will demonstrate to the rest of the team that projet rescue is the most important focus of their attention going forward.”

“An early checklist for the rescue manager to follow is shown in the table below. Recall the three primary activities in this phase for the project rescue manager: Lead-Track-Resolve.”

Getting Started Checklist

Checklist Item


Proceed With

Communicate to the team

Be clear about why things are being done, what is being done, and how it is going to help the organization.

A memo should be sent out by the executive sponsor to all the team members laying out the new direction of the project.

Demonstrate your seriousness

This is more than showing commitment. The team and the project sponsors need to see right away that all the assessment and planning that was done is going to be seriously applied, and that past difficulties are not going to stop future success.

Tackle the difficult decisions first, the ones that may have been avoided in the original project. Lack of visible progress in these areas will cause discomfort for the team and make them question future success.

Get an early win

Success brings confidence. You need to find something that can be completed in a short period of time that provides value to the organization.

Look for something measurable and nontrivial that has been a thorn in the past. This could be correcting a procedural problem, making a difficult decision, or completing a key function.

Kickoff meeting

Bring the extended project team together for a few hours and walk through the details of the rescue.

The invitation should be sent out under the names of the executive sponsor and members of the management group.

Execute regular touch-points

Get the team in the habit of regular touch-points where important information will be shared and disseminated.

Call all the leads every day, if only to see that things are going well. Request walkthroughs of what they are working on.

Organize information

The rest of the project team may not yet understand all the work that has been done in the rescue to date.

Capture all the issues, plans, direction in the basic rescue management toolkit (discussed in the next section).

Issue collection and resolution

Let everyone know that every issue or concern raised is going to be dealt with, so they should freely raise these.

Maintain this information as part of the rescue management toolkit.

Team communication

There should be open, honest, free flowing information

Meet daily or several times a day to build momentum in this phase.

Regular walkthroughs

Hearing that something is done is not the same as actually seeing the details.

Get the team into the habit of showing the details of what they are working on and learning from the feedback they receive. On the flip side, ensure that reviewers are not inhibiting creativity and hard work by focusing on criticism instead of constructive suggestions.