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When Pulling The Plug On A Project Is Not The Best Option

Paul Naybour Paul Naybour

Published: 13th July 2016

I have recently been in discussions about the abandonment of a particular project – the decision was taken by senior management “behind closed doors” without consulting all of the stakeholders. Needless to say there have been different opinions about how viable it was to continue the project and a lot of dissatisfied stakeholders.

But one of the issues that struck a chord with me (as one of the dissatisfied stakeholders not consulted in the decision-making process) is that there was an assumption by senior management that people would expect x or y and be dissatisfied and, therefore, complain if x or y were not delivered. The senior execs had made assumptions about how stakeholders and end users would react.

The irony seems to have been lost on them that in making assumptions to try to avoid dissatisfaction they have, in fact, created dissatisfaction because plenty of affected people believe that the project could have continued to a successful conclusion. Even when eventually presented with all the arguments for and against and given some insight into the decision-making process that went on behind closed doors, end-users and stakeholders are still convinced the project was viable, and always will be.

That’s not to say that I don’t recognise that sometimes projects are beyond saving and it is better to halt some projects and limit the financial and reputational damage than to continue and waste even more money on a doomed project. But this was not one of those projects – it could have been successful if senior execs had been prepared to be flexible and maybe think outside the box just a little, and if they had not made major assumptions that were inaccurate.

I would like to think they understand about managing expectations but this seems to have been ignored by them. There are many projects I have worked on where end users would prefer to accept a limited solution – properly managing their expectations in advance, of course – than no solution at all. After all a brand new house to live in with fewer bedrooms and less well-appointed than you might have been expecting is better than sleeping on the streets.

Limiting the scope of a project will almost certainly mean that stakeholders and end-users are not 100% happy but neither are they wholly disappointed and it can avoid wasting all the money, time and other resources that have already been expended on the project. There are simply some projects where pulling the plug is not the best option.

The business in question have now lost the opportunity for a competitive advantage and, worse, risk damaging their reputation as a leader in their field.

But it seems there is no going back – the decision to drop the project has been made and those that believe the decision should be reversed do not have the power to do so. I guess that’s just life and we will move on to the next project…

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