Getting Out of Trouble

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Project trouble can hit from a blind spot, even though you tried as much as possible to prepare for issues. You did a risk analysis when you took the project on, and even tried to be ready to mitigate unknown issues.   

As I advised in my previous post, do an assessment to determine the problem. Figure out what needs to be fixed, or if the situation is even fixable. If the project seems to have reached a point of no return, here are some tips on how to pull it out of trouble:

  1. Seek out your sponsors. They should be the source to go to when trouble arises. Not only is it likely they will have encountered something similar in the past, but they can also provide additional budget funds, more resources or reinforcement for areas in conflict.
  2. Consult with your team. Bring everyone together, discuss the problems surrounding the project, and begin to discuss counteraction and next steps. Steer away from blame and trying to determine who is at fault. Beware especially of ganging up on the customer. Team members may want to take the position that it's the customer's problem, not the team's. But be clear that the point of getting together is to determine how to solve a problem project, not pass it off as someone else's fault. Instead, gear questions toward possible solutions and the support needed to achieve them. 
  3. Rely on backup and supporting information. Most likely, you will have monitored risks and issues all along and kept a good repository on your project. If so, you will be able to locate the exact information that helps address your problem. For example, you may be over budget because equipment purchases ate even beyond what your contingency allowed, and now a project sponsor or customer may be questioning the overrun. You should be able to pinpoint the authorization you received to make that purchase. 
  4. Enlist outside resources, if needed. Lessons learned or a fellow project manager could be consulted for knowledge transfer and experience. You could even call in an outside contractor for a specific need. 
  5. Remember that a halt is an option as well. Most times, this is seen as negative, and the project is considered a failure. But that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes, halting the project is the necessary solution, and it doesn't have to have horrific implications. If it isn't halted, the project could accumulate astronomical costs. The trouble could consume the project to the point where it would need to be shut down. A halt can also help you assess if the project is still meeting objectives (which could be the source of the problem). Stopping the project in its tracks could help you to determine if you need to redirect funds and/or resources. 

Finally, keep in mind that not all trouble devours all. Before panicking, calmly look to areas that will guide you to a solution. You may even find your project is more sound than it seems.

How do you confront trouble on your project?

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: October 15, 2013 10:25 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Toby Elwin
A good project manager is a good facilitator. Point 2 - Consult with your team and Point 3 - Rely on Backup and Supporting Information are wise separately, but linked one the to the other provide tremendous value. Under point 2, PM as facilitator: "Beware especially of ganging up on the customer. Team members may want to take the position that it's the customer's problem, not the team's. But be clear that the point of getting together is to determine how to solve a problem project." Under point 3, PM as facilitator: With backup and supporting information data can facilitate views around details and trends and away from conjecture. You can't change what you can't measure and you don't value what you don't measure. Using data can point to the value and the challenge. PM as a facilitator, as your title points out, is about getting out of trouble, not getting deeper in trouble. Thank you for the post.

Bernadine Douglas
Hi Toby, Thank you for your comment. You extracted and summarize those points you mentioned very well. Not getting deeper into trouble, gathering trends, and steering away from conjecture are significant. When looking at trends, you can go into future detail to consider cause and effects, and sometimes just gathering all information surrounding an issue without analyzing it first (sort of in a brainstorming fashion), some significance can emerge. True, it is difficult to value what you don't measure and vice versa. So all of what you mention is helpful. I think your summarizations are most helpful for preventative measures. This article attempted to touch on what to do when you are now in the midst of trouble. For instance, if you are in the midst of a fire, you are not going to (or at least should not until some later calming time) stand there and analyze what led to this fire or attempt to determine who is at fault. Rather, instead you will want to find the quickest route possible to getting out of the fire. You may have set up preventative means for if a fire happens, I will do this, or I have this place to minimize a fire from happening. Again, the directional thought for this article is well now the fire has happened, now what? Hope this helps with where the tips in the article can be useful in a situation for confronting trouble. And thank you again for your response. Bernadine

Todd Stone
In my experience PM's must focus on identifying problems as early as possible and absolutely not keep anything a secret. Some PM's have a tendency to cover up a trouble area in hopes they can recover; that seldom works. It's much better to identify issues/problems as soon as you are aware of them and bring them up to your sponsor and work with your team to resolve them. Being open and transparent with your sponsor and your team builds confidence in your ability to manage the project. If problems are identified earlier, the corrections and recovery plans are typically must less drastic.

Hi Todd, i cannot say for sure that PMs are covering up. But sometimes a PM is counted as being good because they try to resolve something before it hits a wall, rather than constantly making a report that might could have been unnecessary. However though, I do agree with you. It is better to identify issues and problems as soon as you are aware of them. Thanks for your comment. Bernadine

The only thing I see missing here is a thorough root cause analysis, a simple way being to ask why we are in this situation, and following that line of why to the root cause.

This may be something that was simply overlooked, or that may have been nearly impossible to identify upfront. In either case, it gives the PM a place to stand and an area to take responsibility for how things have landed where they are. It also points to possible solutions, bringing options for solutions to a meeting with a sponsor or steering committee is a good idea.

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