We’ve all been there. Despite all of your hard work and planning, a project has stalled and getting it moving again … well, you don’t quite know where to start! These tried and true steps will help you quickly get things back on track.
1. Recognize red flags
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and remembering this could mean the difference between a project that has merely skipped a beat versus one that is in serious disrepair. Regular progress reports and status updates provide early warnings signs of problems before they get out of hand. Meeting with team members to check on their progress and results takes very little time, and can be made easier by utilizing time and project management software for a snapshot at any given juncture. When you do notice red flags, it is crucial that you react decisively with a plan that makes expectations clear and goals achievable. It’s natural for any project to encounter red flags along the way—in fact, most do. The earlier you recognize them, the better.
2. Assess the situation
The first step in getting a project back on track is understanding how things got off track to begin with. Don’t rush in and try to fix things without first calmly assessing the situation. Shifting business conditions, staffing changes, and conflicting priorities are all common culprits. Ask questions and gather as much information as possible so you can make decisions based on evidence rather than guesswork. How much of the project has been completed, and what remains to be done? What is necessary to achieve your original deadline, and can the delivery date be modified? Is it necessary to change the scope of the project to finish it, and how will that impact your budget and resources? Remember to include all contributors in this stage, as their insights often reveal paths to resolution.
3. Evaluate the options
Once you’ve identified the need for a change in direction, it is time to evaluate your options. This starts with confirming your original objectives. Are they still relevant and achievable? Are the roles and responsibilities of each team member the same, or have they changed? Are the people and tools necessary to reach your desired outcome still available, and if not what alternates are at your disposal? If the measure of success has changed from the outset, you’ll need to identify the new metrics. Consider that you might need to break your project into smaller parts, or combine it with existing programs that increase your chances. Take a look across your organization and decide if there are experts, tools and technologies that can contribute to a successful conclusion.
4. Develop a new game plan
Revisit your original plan and decide if all or part of it still makes sense. It’s possible that you can still meet your delivery deadline by adding more team members rather than changing your work plan. Conversely, doing this may overshoot your budget and have a spillover effect on other work. Make certain the right people are assigned to your project, and determine if there are any activities or parameters than can be scaled back without compromising the final result—but be aware of trading quality for expediency because you’ll likely pay a price later. Critically evaluate and adjust your goals to ensure you’re tracking to the right priorities. Often, you’ll discover that the original plan did not align well with overall objectives causing your project to stall. Don’t make the same mistake again! Remember that your customers, clients and management will likely give your project greater scrutiny moving forward, too, so demonstrate a clear course correction and broker consensus before you restart the project.
5. Consult with clients and team members
Again, involve all stakeholders in your process. This not only includes your internal team, but also your clients and colleagues. While it may be tempting to withhold the bad news that your project is in trouble, in most cases you’ll be relieved to find others are willing to work with you to find a solution and reimagine the project in a way that makes sense. This is also an important step in everyone accepting not only that the project is in need of a fix, but everyone has a responsibility rectify the flaws and contribute to a supportive environment. You can often recapture lost momentum and recover control when all the key parties are consulted—think of this as “recovery mode” as you get buy in and negotiate resistance for a smoother path forward.
6. Consider dependencies
Once you’ve got your new plan in place and have informed all parties as to the status of your project, it is time to carefully consider the dependencies that might obstruct progress and impact delivery. For example, marketing only starts when product development timelines have been re-adjusted. Design and budget parameters must be met before an engineering team can be re-engaged. Sometimes you’ll discover that the bottlenecks you encountered in the past have shifted or gone away, but in most instances you be up against the same or similar dependencies as before. Obstructions may be hidden, but chances are they are still there lurking in the shadows. Communicate what you need, when you need it, and allow for additional slowdowns so you’ll be prepared this time when things hit a snag.
7. Full speed ahead
You’re ready to get your project moving again! The most important factor to achieving success when restarting a stalled project is attitude and morale. Make sure everyone is on the same page and motivated to roll up their sleeves to work as a team. If they’re not ready to let go of past failures, are feeling blamed for the previous demise, or individual contributors are pursuing conflicting agendas, you should not move forward. Be absolutely certain everyone is on the same page, has released any anger and is committed to a successful conclusion. Act decisively to eliminate remaining obstacles and reassign individuals who are not positively focused on the task ahead. And when you’re done, don’t forget to blow off a little steam and celebrate!