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Key Elements of the New Approach

"Rescuing a troubled project requires leadership. This starts with recognition of a problem, continues with a request for dramatic help - which can be deflating to everyone involved in the project - and continues with doing whatever it takes to salvage what is available to be saved while maximizing value to the business."
"Leadership is perhaps the single most important contributor when rolling out a new project approach. The rescue manager needs to demonstrate a strong commitment and a belief that the project is going to get better. The rescue manager needs to make this a number one priority for as many people in the organization as possible. The stakeholders that have the most to lose from a failed project need to see this commitment in order to lend their support."
"By this point of the project rescue, many pillars are in place to support the salvage operation. The following list summarizes some of the key areas that the project rescue manager should have investigated by now or that will require additional investigation during this phase in order to draw usable conclusions:
  • Transparency  An open and honest dialogue with the project team and sponsors about what went wrong in the project, what can be salvaged in the future, and what is needed to make the salvage a successful operation should now occur.
  • Accountability  Every major decision or deliverable on a project requires signoff from a decision maker. Accountability, coupled with action, are needed to move a project forward. Problems in this area are not always discernable because assumptions are often made about a stakeholder's involvement that may not be true. This is an opportunity to document owners, accountabilitites, timelines, and other expectations from every stakeholder before committing to another deadline.
  • Level playing field  As discussed before, recriminations and 'what ifs' that do not push the project forward need to be avoided; otherwise you may not get the truth, the energy, and the dedication required to execute a difficult salvage operation. The project rescue should be started with a new set of metrics that allow the team to worry more about the future rather than explaining the past.
  • Acceptable business requirements  Because you need to clearly identify future decision points to determine if the rescue is working, also document the absolute minimum that will be acceptable to the  business, as well as prioritites, in case there is room to do more.
  • Flexibility  This requires identification of the project variables that can be changed in the future. A general mood needs to be extended by the entire team to be more flexible in attaining some sort of project success. For example, is more budget available, can some timelines be extended, can resources be brought in from other project initiatives in the organization that are deemed to be less of a priority than the rescue initiative? This measure compares the amount of work that was planned with what was actually accomplished.
  • Tracking  Document how project progress will be tracked going forward - for example, through a project plan, issues log, and updated budget. Just about everyone agrees that tracking is important, but there may still be complaints about efficiency, and about the time spent on what appear to be administrative tasks. Consider using three quantitative metrics to help with tracking the project. Earned Value (EV) is a measurement of planned work compared to actual work completed. If EV is accepted by the senior team, then the complaints about efficiency and the time spent doing it will be moot - without the effort, the project manager cannot report progress in the agreed metric. The cost performance index (CPI) and the schedule performance index (SPI) are also good tracking indicators. CPI is a measure of budgeted planned costs versus the actual costs. SPI is a measure of work performed versus work planned/scheduled. Both the CPI and the SPI are pretty easy to understand and do not allow much room for verbal dancing with respect to the project status.
  • Deliverables  A list of key deliverables that require further rework before the project rescue can proceed, and what needs to be built by the end of the project.
  • Early warning systems  Identification of how symptoms can be trapped and problems solved before reaching another cliff on the project.
  • Specific training  Identification of specific skills that were lacking in the initiative. A training approach that identifies specifically who needs the training, how the training will be conducted, the timing, and the source of revenue.
  • Poor processes  Identification of the processes that were identified as being problematic, unnecessary, or contributors to the problems faced by the project (for example, the time it takes to get equipment ordered)."
The above is an excerpt from a book written by Sanjiv Purba and Joseph Zucchero, published by McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2100 Powell Street, 10th Floor, Emeryville, California 94608 U.S.A. Sanjiv has over 20 years of experience managing large projects and many years engaged in rescuing ailing projects.