sponsorship. You have to look at the
problems in a systematic way.”
The process of untangling a project’s
knots must be handled carefully and
thoughtfully, especially if you’re brought
in to get the project back on track, warns
Teresa Shull, PMP, IT project manager at
National Government Services Inc., a
federal health insurance contractor in
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.
“When you take over a project in the
middle, you need to begin by earning
the team’s respect,” she says.
Ms. Shull recalls being brought in to
support a struggling interactive voice
response implementation. After the
project manager who’d been leading the
project left the company, it fell to a technical lead with little project management experience. There were no project
management processes in place, and the
team was rife with infighting. Ms. Shull
identified the problems right away but
also recognized that the technical lead
was a valuable resource who had key
relationships with all the vendors.
“I took over management of the
project slowly, while implementing
more in-depth project management
processes,” she says.
After securing the technical lead’s
permission, she began running portions of project meetings, focusing on
task items and creating accountability.
Little by little, she took over all the
meetings, freeing the technical lead to
focus on other responsibilities. Ms.
Shull was eventually able to implement
a project management infrastructure
while leaving the technical lead as the
official head of the project.
“By adding processes and holding
people accountable, we got things done,
the project was saved, and the technical
lead was able to focus on getting the job
done,” she says.
Taking a quiet, careful approach is
the best way to ease into a struggling
project, agrees Frank Cox, PMP, project
management officer at the Department
No one wants to be the last to know. Here are five signs your project may
be in peril:
Lack of a clearly defined mission
“This is the most common problem that leads to project failure,”
says Geoff Vincent, CITI, Newport Pagnell, England.
When teams lack a solid objective, they have no framework for decision-making, which leads to delays, scope creep and missed deadlines.
When key members on the project team have too many concerns
outside the project, timescales can be stretched beyond capacity, people
might feel overwhelmed and morale will crash, says Frank Cox, PMP,
Missouri Office of Administration, Jefferson City, Missouri, USA.
That’s when it may be time to step in and fight. “The project leader
has to be the champion for the team,” he says.
It could mean speaking to functional managers to ensure team
members have the time to complete project tasks or adjusting the
project schedule to lessen the burden.
“When you clear the path for team members and set reasonable
goals, you’ll get greater productivity,” Mr. Cox adds.
Dearth of project management methodology
“When a project lacks a management strategy, nothing will get
done,” says Teresa Shull, PMP, National Government Services Inc.,
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.
By creating a project management process that includes defined
tasks and milestones, people are held accountable and work gets
completed on time.
No stakeholder support
“If there is no clear project sponsor, the project manager has no one
to turn to and then problems proliferate,” says Mr. Vincent.
Project managers should seek out an executive to actively support
Sponsor shifts late in the game
“If the project stakeholders start communicating constantly toward
the end of a project, be concerned,” warns Brian H. Munroe, PMP, MTI
Learning Inc., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. “Toward the end of a project,
stakeholder influence should drop off. If you start receiving a massive
number of change requests, it’s a sign the project could be heading
HERE COMES TROUBLE
of Corrections in the Missouri Office
of Administration, Jefferson City,
“As a new project manager on a failing
project, you need to shut up and listen for
a while so you can gain an understanding
of the nature of the problems,” he says.
“The object is to get the team back on
track and eliminate what’s distracting
them. You need their trust to do that.”
Once the problems have been identified, it’s the project manager’s job to