There are many reasons for a projects going astray, and if your initiative has lost its way, you certainly aren’t alone. In a commissioned study for IBM in 2011, Forrester Consulting discovered that in the United States, 25% of IT projects were over-budget and behind schedule.
Keeping a project on track requires thorough planning and regular communication among all parties involved in the project: managers, teams, stakeholders and sponsors. However, a project may still go off course in spite of these precautions.
The typical causes of a diversion from plan usually involve budgetary or schedule issues, but not always. Sometimes course changes aren’t bad. Emerging conditions or new intelligence could reveal that there is an aspect of the project that must be changed in order for it to succeed.
Regardless of the reason, when a project jumps the rails, quick and decisive action should be taken. Project leadership and the teams should meet for a thorough assessment of the situation, and answer questions including:
- What caused the diversion from plan?
- Has the cause been fully addressed, or if it is ongoing?
- Are additional resources required? What resources are available?
- What is the new course for the project, and its expectations?
- How much will the schedule be affected? How will this affect other projects in the portfolio?
- What is the revised cost to complete this project? Is it still within its earned value?
Don’t allow the meeting to descend into a blame-game match. The focus of the meeting should be on the problem and how it’s going to be solved. This isn’t to say these reasons shouldn’t be examined, but the deep analysis of that should wait for the project wrap up session.
Once the new course is charted, it’s crucial to stay on top of the project to make sure the new course has taken. Timely, accurate status reporting is now a crucial element to the success of the project as well as open and clear communication among the project team, leadership, stakeholders and sponsors.
Of course, the best course of action is to ensure the initiative doesn’t go off course in the first case. The more time and care your organization invests in planning its projects, the less likely they are to go astray. This isn’t just a matter of juxtaposing resources and tasks, but also ironing out the goals of the initiative, how it aligns with the organization’s objectives, and what success looks like to all sponsors and stakeholders. Set clear, logical milestones for the project. They will help keep the project team on course during the execution of the initiative, and serve as a warning system for managers and stakeholders, when milestones start to slip, the project is in danger. Finally, thoroughly assess potential risks for the project, develop contingency plans for them, and most important, assign resources to track and respond to these items if they appear.