How to recover a project that has gone off course


When you explain project management you don’t immediately think of failure, but it can and does happen no matter how good the manger is. Statistics show that roughly only a third of projects fulfil their objective but this figure can be lowered if a manager can act quickly to get a project back on track considering time, budget and scope.

There are 5 critical stages identified by experienced project managers, who have battled impending defeat only to victoriously emerge through the other side. We look at the 5 stages of assessment and implementation that could help to turn a failing project into a resounding success.

Be transparent and consider an expert’s involvement

The first two steps for a project that is off course are about formulating an assessment plan known as the assessment charter. A project that is nearing the end of its completion is going to require much more remedial work than one that has some time to go so it may be necessary to call in a project recovery manager rather than attempt self-recovery to determine the present status of the project and the changes that need to be made to get things back on track.

Ensuring the plan is ship shape

This assessment schedule proposed by the RPM, RT or original project manager (if following self-recovery) needs to be both realistic and viable. The history of the project timeline will need to be reviewed in order to gather findings and this will include the SOW, costing, critical documentation and identifying stakeholders who will need to be interviewed. Time is of the essence and an hourly schedule of activities will help to keep the whole team on point.

Conducting the assessment plan (heads may roll)

All joking aside, this stage of project recovery is not about fault finding but focusing on the findings that have come to light and gaining support by interviewing key stakeholders – in this way valuable information and feedback can be received. When a project is off course, as well as determining the current true status of the project, any major threats and opportunities will also need to be determined before making a final decision whether recovery is achievable. It may also be a recommendation for the current PM to brush up on their skills through additional PM qualifications.

Developing the recovery plan

This stage begins with rebuilding the project team with new members where applicable. A whole host of factors need to be considered for the recovery plan which must NOT be allowed to fail. The most important elements are inchstones (or essential sub-tasks), with constant scrutiny; never committing to a new baseline until the previous one has been achieved and keeping up morale of everyone involved.

Implementing recovery

This is the stage of having a concrete, well defined end in mind that will be achieved through tight project control and experienced team members determined to get the job done. The inchstone plan must be followed to the letter for the solid ground of project success to be reached.

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