Peter Sterpe, of Forrester Research, has pulled together excellent and practical techniques to fix failing IT projects. His report, titled Rescuing Train Wrecks: Putting Derailed Software Projects Back On Track, reminds us that most failed projects can be turned around if the right steps are taken. According to the report, project turnarounds depend on combining solid management with identifying the underlying causes of the failure:
No matter how bad things look, the project can usually be turned around. If you’re a manager running a salvage effort, you have a lot of things going for you:
- You don’t have to fix every problem plaguing the project. Many factors may have contributed to sending the project off track, but surprisingly enough, they don’t all have to be addressed.
- You’ll get the support you need from business stakeholders. Whether or not they conduct any formal analysis, business customers have an idea of what they hope to gain from a project.
- You can repair the project using basic project management techniques. Seeing an off-track project to completion doesn’t require some secret sauce. The shops that we spoke with did it using well-known project management techniques, maintaining the discipline necessary to adhere slavishly to deadlines and scope for the remainder of the project.
As you can see from the table above, the report outlines a specific methodology for repairing troubled projects. I fully support this approach, but caution that resetting a project is not for the faint of heart. You can expect resistance from the organization, and will need loads of perseverance, discipline, and strong executive support.
That being said, if your project has become a software train wreck, I urge you to get the report and follow the medicine it prescribes. Better yet, get the report before your project fails, and ride the train to success.
Of course, you can always ignore this advice, and follow the lead of Nepal Airlines, which sacrifices goats as a problem-solving technique. We don't recommend that approach, however.
Update: Oliver Widder has created a Geek and Poke cartoon about this post.