Projects that need rescue are almost always those that had a high risk of failure to begin with but it was not recognized.  These risks include poorly defined or contentious scope, lack of commitment to schedule, the schedule is poorly defined and/or they are way behind, and finally costs are over budget, there is no detail cost model, and it is not well tracked.

The organization has seen these risks turn into issues necessitating a change in project manager or a change in project approach.

The first thing to do is find the root cause for project rescue so look beyond the surface issues.  Possible root causes include:

  • Ineffective project charter or project definition
  • Poor quality control
  • Poor change control
  • Poor schedule/cost management
  • Poor risk management.

Risk management is the only aspect of project management that can prevent issues in the other areas. It is that part of project management that consists of risk identification, risk quantification, risk response development, and risk response control.

Make sure you have a firm grasp of risk related project management terms.

  • Likelihood: an estimate of the possibility the risk will occur, usually stated as a percentage
  • Impact: an estimate of the cost to the organization or project should the risk occur, usually stated as a ranking (i.e. 1-5)
  • Exposure: calculated using Likelihood and Impact and used to rank Risks
  • Mitigation: actions taken to reduce likelihood of a risk
  • Contingency: actions taken to reduce impact of a risk should it occur

Basic Approach

ChecklistThe basic approach to project rescues starts with reviewing existing project materials. Confirm the project organization and executive commitment to the project.  Review the project charter paying special attention to the scope, schedule and cost definitions.  Check the quality of other document deliverables such as Requirements and Design documents.  Review the project’s adherence to the PMI processes or similar methodology selected that cover the following:

  • recognizing and broadcasting the need for change
  • obtaining executive-level support
  • gathering cooperation by using effective communication
  • putting together quality teams
  • knowing what the customer needs and wants
  • providing goals that relate to organization’s strategic plan
  • measuring outcomes accurately
  • using risk management appropriately
  • continuing to plan for improvement.

Issues and Risks

From the previous assessment, compile the lists of issues and risks.  It is critical to identify both the tangible and intangible current issues and risks.  Though tangible issues like cost overruns are easy to spot, often intangible risks such as morale, executive commitment, are far more critical.

Do not rely on existing project materials. Instead talk to all levels within the project, from sponsors to project managers to team members.  For issues, get a consensus on priority and impact. For risks, get a consensus on impact, likelihood, and the exposure calculation method.

Rescue Strategy

Next develop your rescue strategy.  Consider your overall company strategy to provide focus on the right priorities. If you lack clarity, consider reworking of scope documents such as the requirements or design.  Consider the high priority risks and issues to determine what to tackle first and how to approach the changes. If the root cause involves the team, consider team restructuring and changing team communications and behaviours.  Maybe go agile to encourage team unity and focus.

Finally execute your rescue strategy.  Kick it off in grand fashion to set expectations that change is coming and necessary. Create and/or fix your methodology to include a strong focus on risks and issues.  Develop focused teams and/or roles.  Everyone should know their role, what is expected of them and how they fit into the bigger picture.  Create your target schedule but don’t be afraid to adjust it early as the team adjusts to the new paradigm.  Implement your new communications plan so you can set expectations of sponsors, stakeholders and team members and keep everyone informed of progress and hurdles.  And most importantly continue to closely monitor your progress, issues and risk status.  Don’t let it get away from you again.  A strong focus on risks will ensure you avoid most pitfalls before they happen!

Project Rescues Using Risk Management

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