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Guiding Principles for Building a Project Rescue Plan

"The culture of an organization is often reflected in the project plans produced by its managers. Are deadlines realistic? Do people really know what is going on? How introspective is the organization? How involved are senior managers? Is senior management willing to invest freely in an initiative when there is a strong upside? Are deadlines usually missed without accountabilities or penalties? Does senior management trust their managers? What checks and balances are required? Answers to these and other questions are reflected in the way the activities and tasks are defined, who is involved, and how they are validated."

"Even corporate policies such as the payment of supplies makes a difference to how a project plan is structured. Late payments to vendors could result in a lack of commitment on their part, making it difficult to count on their cooperation during tight timeframes."

"The lessons learned during the assessment and earlier planning stages need to be included in the plan that will control the rescue initiative and need to satisfy the following objectives:
  • Inspiration  Prove diagrammatically and mathematically that a successful turnaround is possible for the project.
  • Directions  Show what needs to be done to facilitate a successful turnaround, by whom, and when.
  • Tracking  Track the milestone dates and deliverables that are important for reaching the project targets. What are the important goalposts?
  • Maintainable  The structure of the project or rescue plan needs to accommodate modifications on-the-fly and allow a rapid turnaround for incorporating new tasks or activities.
  • Story  In some ways this is the most important objective. The plan should reveal the logic and flow of how the project is going to be rescued and the philosophy that is being followed. Does the plan tell a story?"

"A project plan that does not satisfy these collective objectives is likely to be rejected out of hand, and is unlikely to succeed even if it succeeds in getting the support of the project team. The table below examines why each of these objectives is crucial for a successful outcome and provides the key instructions for achieving them."

This will be the first physical proof to the combined project team that the project can be saved. Inspiration will focus and energize them, temporarily removing their collective resignation. They will find the strength to try again.
Without getting bogged down in details, lay out all the major deliverables so that people can see the project coming to a successful end. The story element is very important. The team needs to see that a positive end is in sight.
When the team begins to believe that the project can be salvaged, team members need to understand how to get to the destination. Time is going to be short, so the team will need to know what to do and when to do it.
Use deliverables and milestone events to identify major goalposts. Can you identify champions for each major grouping of activities? Who does what and when?
Continually measure progress against the rescue plan and be prepared to make corrections to bring it back in line. The systemic reasons why the project originally went off track may not be adequately suppressed yet.
Tracking results versus the plan is only the first step for the project rescue manager. The results need to be communicated to the project team with an immediate inclusion of corrective action to ensure that another round of project rescue is not needed. Be aggressive in tracking the plan.
Significant complexity needs to be captured in the project plan, but you still need to be able to make changes in a brisk fashion as changes are identified on an ongoing basis.
You need to leverage a physical format for the plan and an electronic tool that can be updated within an hour or two - in time for the next status meeting.
Because you can almost guarantee that further changes to the rescue plan will be required, the plan needs to relate the story of how the project is being rescued. This will show the big picture to the entire team. The story always makes the plan more readable.
Show how the different phases and activities flow into one another in the overall plan. What principles are being followed? Is there enough time to do the activities? Is there a logical grouping (for example, hiring a resource, training the resource, using the resource)? Are the internal policies of the organization incorporated in the plan (for example, equipment requisitions being produced prior to purchase and usage by the team)? A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a good tool for this.