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Putting Projects Back on Track: a Practical Approach

Projects can get out of control which is the nightmare of the Project Manager!

My objective in this article is to describe how to get a project back on track based on my personal experience.


A large and complex company website infrastructure should have been delivered in April as a fixed price contract. I was asked as fourth Project Manager in October (so already way over due) to finish the project. I was finished the next year June.

The company had arranged a big marketing campaign to announce their website which had to be postponed several times. At the supplier side the Project Executive (responsible for the overall contract and profit) has changed three times.

The (executive) management on both the client and supplier sides were ‘not happy’ and the pressure was huge. The project team was deeply demotivated and they were working on the client’s premises so having direct interaction with the client.

Due to the fixed price construction the financial loss at the supplier’s side was increasing rapidly.

The supplier of the application software was delivering the same services as the infrastructure supplier and was aiming to take this part over.

How did I start?

First of all such a situation requires ‘soft skills’! Go the client and have a personal meeting. Listen to listen and don’t listen to answer. Summarise what you hear during the meeting (don’t make assumptions!). You need to rebuild confidence which requires a lot of communication. Tell the client what the next steps will be and confirm what you have discussed and agreed by e-mail (minutes of meeting).

Look in the project archive/file to sort what has been documented such as contract, planning and costs.

Is there a communication management plan? If not, make this as soon as possible.

Have a meeting with your own (executive) management. They will have a communication channel with the client’s (executive) management as well but they have some other different needs. While this was a fixed price contract each additional hour spent was cost without revenue and that is something they don’t like. The reporting to this management needs to contain a financial overview as well (spent so far, what needs to be spend, etc.).

And last but not least: the project team! Assuming that the team remains intact remotivation is required.

How did I proceed?

In the beginning there is a huge peak esp. due to the pressure on such a project so not 9-5 in the beginning.

  1. What is in the contract (planning, costs, deliverables, etc.)? Are there any contract changes? This also requires to establish a (new) baseline.
  1. What is the business case and what are the changes so far? Make an updated business case which will be the new baseline of what will be delivered. Get formal approval of the sponsor and of your own (executive) management as well.
  1. Is the business case still positive? Might terminate the project be an option as well? What will be the damage regarding costs (claim of client) and supplier image?
    In case the decision is made to terminate the project, store the material which has been produced so far, update the lessons learned, arrange a formal meeting with the client management, your own management and the project team (different meetings).
    Close the project properly, also from the human point of view, otherwise this project will become a kind of trauma for many people.
  1. Have a meeting with the project team. Ask them to share what has been going on and how they feel. There might be personal issues which will not be discussed in a team meeting. Tell them that they can always have a one to one meeting with you as Project Manager. You need to make with them a new realistic planning which will be the new baseline.
  1. Organize informal events such as a dinner and show explicitly appreciation. For instance when a milestone has been achieved cake is arranged for both the management (both sides) and the project team during a common meeting. Thank team members during team meetings for their achievements.
  1. Get commitment (not involvement) from the team members to make this project a success.
  1. Write or update the communication management plan.
  1. What are the defined tolerances regarding time, costs, scope, risk, quality and benefits?
  1. What is the change budget and how much has been used so far?
  1. What is the risk budget and how much has been used so far?
  1. Communicate, communicate and communicate (according to the communication management plan).
  1. Examine the business benefits review plan. Is this still applicable?
  1. Examine the issues logs and determine which issues are still applicable and add newly identified issues.
  1. Examine the risk log and determine which risks are still applicable and add newly identified risks.
  1. Examine the configuration records what has been produced so far and update these.
  1. Examine the quality management register and update this.
  1. Examine the lessons learned and update this file.

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