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Saving A Failing Project Doesn’t Always Mean Extra Resources

Paul Naybour Paul Naybour

Published: 15th July 2016

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.


It’s true that far too many projects start with an overly optimistic budget and timeframe but, in many ways that is the nature of projects. Many projects that do start in this situation do deliver a successful result and if the project was deferred until the time or money was available to do it then it would probably never get started. So optimism in itself is not a bad thing – it does get projects started.

But it’s when such projects get into trouble (as they inevitably do) that PMs start looking for more people, time or money. But what if these extra resources are not available? How then can you rescue your project?

The first thing 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 making sure you have these processes in place and that you are actually using them. They are not tick box exercises but solutions to managing project issues so make sure you are using them.

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. Manage them efficiently and ruthlessly if you want a successful outcome. Harsh decisions will have to be made and the project manager is often the one to either make or communicate those decisions so you can’t avoid them or the project will fail.

And remember that even if additional resources were available this can cause additional problems:

  • If you bring new people on board part way through a project they need some time to get up to speed – time that is taken from someone else’s schedule. How much do you really stand to gain?
  • If a project is being managed badly and change management is out of control then additional funding will just exacerbate this situation and soon you will be back where you started.

Larger projects with more people and bigger budgets become more complex and harder to manage so don’t assume more resources are the panacea for all the problems on the project.

Instead try and make efficiency savings:

  • Review the scope – start back with the original business objectives and planned business benefits. What do you really need in order to meet those? What have you already completed?
  • Can the project team work more efficiently? For instance, are there delays being caused between dependent tasks. If some tasks are taking much longer why not re-assign project team members to minimise delays.
  • Can the stakeholders be more responsive? Are vital decisions slow to be made because stakeholders are not prioritising your project? Are stakeholders unable to come to agreements quickly on issues that affect your project?

These, and all the other potential problems and inefficiencies that can arise in a project, can be resolved by reviewing progress, status and risks regularly and acting upon the issues. It is the project manager who is key to saving a failing project; who can ensure everyone involved is focused on making the project a success by ensuring resources are efficiently allocated and those with authority to make critical decisions are making them.

  1. PM Manjik says:

    Hi Michelle,

    Your first point is very important that you should only commit extra resources if the project is worth saving. Therefore, it is worth taking a check point to review if the project still makes sense, if the benefits still add up against the increased cost and risk factor of successful delivery.


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