Rescuing a Failing Project: Strategies for Success


As project managers, we all know the value of extra resources – if only we had that extra time in the schedule, an extra member of the project team, or additional budget, we would be bound to complete our project successfully, wouldn’t we? Well, that certainly can be true sometimes, and on some well-managed projects, extra resources can make all the difference. But on poorly managed projects, extra resources may merely be throwing good money after bad, and there are other ways of saving a failing project.

1. Assessing Project Structure and Controls

The first step in rescuing a failing project is to review the structure and controls in place. Does the project have an effective communication strategy and controls to prevent scope creep, for instance? Is there a risk management strategy and a change management plan? A lack of resources can be alleviated by going back to basics and ensuring these processes are in place and being utilised effectively.

  • Communication Strategy – it is important that as a project manager you ensure that you have a clear communication strategy built into your project plan. When it comes to updating your stakeholders, you need to ensure that there are clear lines of communication and that they are receiving regular updates on the project so that they are kept informed of the progress of the project and any changes that need to be made. It can be a good idea to discuss with your stakeholder what format they would like to receive these regular updates in. Some may prefer a quick phone call to update them on the key points which others, and particularly if they are very busy may prefer to be updated in an email that they can digest when they have a moment. It may be that your stakeholder prefers a mixture of both, a quick phone call for the main points and an email to confirm everything – make sure that you have noted their preferences down.
  • Scope Management -It is very important that everyone involved in the project has a clear understanding of the project objectives and that they know exactly what needs to be done. You should ensure that you have defined project scope within your project plan so that you can assign project tasks, schedule work and then budget accordingly. Once you have defined your scope it is also important to manage it so that you can prevent scope creep and maintain complete focus on the objectives of your project.  .
  • Risk Management – Your risk management strategy should include an indication of the risks that you have identified for the project and any steps that you should be able to take in the event of them occurring. When you plan for the possible risks of a project proactively and have plans in place it can help you to avoid any costly delays or failures.

2. Exploring Efficiency Savings

Look for ways to save time or costs, particularly if the project is inundated with change requests and the deadline for completion cannot be changed. Managing change efficiently and ruthlessly is crucial for achieving a successful outcome. Harsh decisions may need to be made, and the project manager is often the one responsible for making or communicating those decisions.

Efficient Resource Allocation

In order to ensure that your resources are allocated efficiently it is necessary to employ the most appropriate strategies, these will allow you to optimise your resource allocation whilst minimising any waste, this means that you should look for those tools that will help you to reallocate your resources in the most efficient way for your project priorities and critical path analysis. In order to achieve this efficiently you should assess your current situation and use this to define your optimisation criteria. This will allow you to generate and then evaluate any alternative and then implement and monitor these chosen alternatives. In order to ensure maximum efficiency you can learn and improve on a continuous basis from your processes.

Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement is essential for a successful project, in order to engage with your stakeholders more effectively you need to ensure that you are communicating properly with them. This means making sure that they are kept in the loop with regular updates, they don’t just want to know about problems they need to know about successes as well. If they are kept up to date on the progress of the project, you are more likely to obtain timely decisions and approvals that will help you to keep the project on track.

Continuous Improvement

There is always room for improvement and adjustments. Regular project reviews and continuous improvement efforts will help you identify inefficiencies in the project and put corrective measures in place before it becomes a failing project.

3. Understanding the Pitfalls of Additional Resources

Remember that even if additional resources were available, this can cause additional problems. Bringing new people on board partway through a project may require time for onboarding, potentially disrupting existing workflows. Additionally, injecting more funding into a poorly managed project can exacerbate existing issues rather than solving them.

  • Onboarding Challenges – It is never easy to integrate new members into an established team but when this happens mid-project this can be particularly difficult. An established team will, hopefully, already be a well-oiled machine who are used to working together. When you add someone new to this there may be friction. Whether you are adding a new member to the team to replace someone who has left or to carry out a specific task that requires skills your current team members don’t have taken time to show them the ropes, introduce them properly and set out what everyone is responsible for. When there is friction in the team this may have a potential impact on project timelines and also deliverables.
  • Control and Governance – Scope creep has the potential to be a huge problem resulting in the potential for a failing project. As project manager you need to make sure that you are maintaining control and that you have governance structures in place to prevent this happening. You should also make sure that they align with any of the objectives that your organisation may have.
  • Complexity Management – Whilst all projects require the many of the same procedures and processes when it comes to managing larger projects that have much bigger budgets and larger number of resources you will find yourself facing even more challenges. Keeping track of everything that is going on in your project means having good project management software to help you track everything. Effective project governance and risk management is important in helping you achieve this.
Understanding The Causes of
Project Failure

4. Implementing Efficiency Measures

Instead of relying solely on additional resources, project managers should focus on implementing efficiency measures to streamline project delivery and maximise outcomes.

Scope Review

Whilst you will visit the topic of project scope in your initial planning this is not enough, and you should ensure that you are reviewing your project scope on a regular basis. This will allow you to prioritise any deliverables for the project, based on the planned benefits and your business objectives.

Task Optimisation

In order to minimise delays and improve the efficiency of your project you need to use appropriate strategies in order to optimise task dependencies and also resources utilisation. Regular reviews of workloads and being kept informed of progress by project team members will help you to see where you are hitting your deadlines and where you may run into problems, this will allow you to make the relevant changes that should help you to keep your project on track.

Stakeholder Collaboration

Finally, your stakeholders are one of your most important project resources so keeping them on side makes sense. On a failing project when things don’t go as you might have hoped, this affects your budget, timescales, or both. This is when you need to ensure that you are fostering collaboration and alignment because this will help you to expedite any decision-making and issue resolution that may need to take place.

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