Regardless of the size of the business or the industry you are in, every company has experienced a project that goes off the rails. While walking away is sometimes an option, abandoning a project can feel like a waste of resources. Furthermore, when it comes to client-based projects, abandonment may not be an option.
That leaves only one solution: getting the project back on track. Here are some helpful tips for start-ups trying to course-correct failing projects.
Have a Mid-Mortem
A post-mortem is a valuable component of the project management process. This session creates a sense of closure and finality, allowing team members to celebrate their success and learn from failures. Many project managers consider this to be the most valuable step in the project’s process, as it helps shape future endeavors.
If your project is getting off-track, there's no need to wait until completion to identify the sticking points and mistakes. Instead, host a post-mortem that encourages everyone to highlight the reasons why the project is falling behind and what solutions can be put in place to course-correct. The goal is to leave the meeting with key focus areas and action items to resurrect the project.
Hire a Project Manager
Many start-ups rely on project management software and internal communications to drive a project forward. However, having limited resources often means a key stakeholder is juggling project management with their other responsibilities.
Consider hiring a skilled project manager whose sole responsibility is managing tasks and pushing timelines. Look for a professional with proven experience and a Six Sigma Certification to ensure they have the necessary skills to save your project and get the job done.
Implement a Gated Development Process
One of the key elements of successful project management is knowing when a project should move forward and when it should stay still. Implementing a gated development process will prevent future project failures and help your start-up prioritize focal points and allocate resources efficiently.
The Phase-Gate method is commonly used by project managers to determine if and when a project should move forward or not. The five phases include:
- Building a Business Case
- Testing and Validation
When using the Phase-Gate method, resource limitations are scaled based on the phase, and specific conditions must be met before a project can move through a "gate."
Revisit Your Team
Having the right people working on your project is essential for seeing it through to completion. Re-evaluate the team you currently have in place and determine what skills are missing. You may also identify people who are not invested enough in the project. Then, it becomes a matter of motivating them or replacing them.
Sometimes a team member isn't able to dedicate enough time to a project because they don't have the help they need to complete their other tasks. Empower your team to share their challenges and sticking points in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
Focus on Improving Communication
Communication is the oil that keeps the moving parts of your project management machine moving. A lack of communication is often the downfall of many would-be great start-ups.
Look at your current communication methods and explore ways to streamline them. Help team members manage expectations about when they'll be checking email and setting deadlines for their project-related tasks. Consider incorporating daily updates — either via meetings or through an app — to provide insight into what's moving ahead, what's causing delays, and what assistance is needed.
Finding the Finish Line
Sometimes to get a project moving forward, you need to take a few steps back. Identify the root cause of your holdups and re-evaluate the validity of the project. Take another look at dependencies and see if there are other routes to the finish line. When in doubt, hire a skilled project manager to see it through.