AFTER THE END
Project managers expect uncertainty in their work. Still, the recent drop in
oil prices, political elections and other shifts are leaving some to face the most
dramatic change of all: project cancellation.
The Australian state of Victoria had planned an AU$8 billion tollway project called
the East West Link—until the November 2014 state election, when a new government
came to power and killed the project. Economic shifts can scrap projects, too. In response
to falling oil prices, Qatar Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell PLC spiked plans in January
for a US$6.5 billion petrochemical plant.
Although project managers lack control over the economic and strategic conditions
that force cancellations, they can make smart career choices in the aftermath. That
includes finding effective ways to share the difficult news with the project team.
This is familiar terrain for Mattias Hallberg, PMP, section manager in the project
management section at e-commerce firm Rakuten Inc., Tokyo,
Japan. He oversees more than 30 project managers and has
observed what works—and what doesn’t—when breaking the
cancellation news. After inviting the team to an urgent all-
hands project meeting and sharing the bad news, schedule a
lessons-learned session, says Mr. Hallberg, and do it quickly.
“The team should get a chance within two business days to
get things off their chest and refocus,” he says.
During that session, don’t drag team members through a
painful postmortem. When Mr. Hallberg’s project managers
summarize lessons-learned documentation, they avoid attaching employees’ names to comments because that can lead to
finger-pointing. “They should avoid asking, ‘Who said what?’
and ‘Who did what?’ It’s better to focus on ‘what’ and ‘how,’”
says Mr. Hallberg. “Don’t make it personal.”
‘No Shame’ in a Canceled Project
Beyond the lessons-learned session, project managers’ attitudes
about cancellation can help—or hurt—their careers. Unless the
project manager was negligent, he or she should avoid looking at
the cancellation as a personal failure.
“There is no shame in participating in a canceled project,” says
Raul Castro, a recruiter for the Irvine, California, USA location of
CDI Corp., which provides IT and engineering recruiting services. “It is important for
the project manager to understand that project cancellation is not necessarily a reflec-
tion of project execution performance, but rather an indication of project goal align-
ment with corporate and market objectives.”
Whether the reasons for the project cancellation stem from market and com-
petitive forces, changes in corporate strategy or execution challenges, there are
valuable lessons the project manager—and team members—can learn to drive
improvement. Employers prize that mindset. “With today’s fast-moving
market cycles, the ability to learn from mistakes and quickly
adjust is an extremely valuable and critical capability,” Mr.
the ability to
adjust is an
—Raul Castro, CDI Corp.,
Irvine, California, USA