Project Management

Want to Get Away? The Value of a Strategic Pause in Project Management

, and Karen Cook

Do you remember those Southwest Airlines advertisements: “You are now free to move about the country”? The commercials’ premise involved a person or group stuck in a stressful situation, accompanied by a “Want to get away?” voiceover. At some point, any project team may experience one of those moments, but is it worth dedicating time and resources to pause a fast-paced endeavor to reassess the way forward?

Our recent experience supporting the initiation, planning and early implementation phases of a challenging, high-visibility project impacting billions of dollars in federal resources demonstrated the value of a strategic pause. This article offers practical insights for project teams on the use of a strategic pause—and five key lessons on maximizing its impact with limited investment.

What drives a “Want to get away?” moment in project management? The worst-case scenario is a project whose flaws are so fundamental that, without an emergency stand down, the endeavor is doomed to failure. A more common and less catastrophic scenario, however, involves rapid project changes or new inputs of sufficient magnitude to place added stress on key elements of the project plan, leading to unquantified risk.

For our team, numerous sponsor-…

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