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It has been covered along other articles how to recover a Project from the Project Manager’s perspective. These articles have taught you the importance of managing your team, managing stakeholders, managing risks, etc.

Today my article is from a different perspective: the Project Sponsor or the Product Owner one. This is the perspective from the side where the project was greenlighted, and I hope it will help you to understand what  recovery means from their own view.

All Project starts and ends with the Business Case

A project is initiated with a Business Case. The business outcomes and business value that justified the project is detailed and covered in this document.

On the other side, there are time and costs. Time and costs are just resources provided to the project make the Business Case happen.

Going off track, a project is something that may happen. The project schedule is only a tool for building the project deliverables. Off track means that that schedule is no longer a reference and that costs were neither estimated.

So, as a Project Sponsor or Product Owner, the first point that must be focussed on is the Business Case:

  • Is the Business Case still valid?
  • Does our business still require the detailed outcomes?

If the answer in both cases is “YES”, the Time and Cost factors are just secondary.

Why project tolerances are needed

Project tolerances are the flexibility that a Product Sponsor provides to a Project Manager in order to give him/her freedom to manage the assigned project. The Project Sponsor will not worry if project deviations (scope, time, cost, quality, risks, etc.) are inside the project tolerances.

If a project has gone off-track, this means that it has exceeded all the tolerances assigned to its Project Manager. In other words, the project has gotten out of control under the current PM.

Doing the same, one gets the same results

A project recovery management requires a complete different delivery strategy than the one previously deployed. Albert Einstein said: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”.

Changing the Project Manager

A good practice is changing the Project Manager. This is not a blame or a penalty for him/her. Probably those project delays or cost overruns were not a fault of that Project Manager, but the fact is that he/she  was the one in charge of the project when things got out of control.

In an off-track project, things are required to change quickly and we need to make it clear to everyone that we will change everything required for assuring a happy ending in our project.

In conclusion, the Change of the Project Manager is only a decision for a new project strategy and getting things done.

Supporting the Project Manager

In many cases, the changing of Project Manager is not always possible because it depends on availability of other PMs and also on special knowledge required for this role. When it is not possible to replace the Project Manager, we need to provide him with support. There are several ways to support a PM:

  • assigning a Project Management Office (PMO) to provide close coordination and follow-up for the project management. This PMO will lead weekly meetings with the project manager and all the main stakeholders in order to provide a good management structure and a deliverables-centered focus.   
  • another is special project professionals for specific Project Management subjects. For example ProjectManagers.Org provides certifications for Project Risk Professionals, Project Estimation Professionals, Project Recovery Professionals, etc. So, depending on the current project deviations different roles may be added, you can consider adding one of these roles to the project for working together with the current PM.

Baselining a new project leadership

Now that we have new shining project management leadership for leading the new project direction, we need to go back to the Time and Cost factors.

New project baselines are required. It would not be so clear if it were the same PM who said this, but with a new project management leadership it seems more appropriate to make a new project plan, including updated project baselines adapted from the lessons learned in the first off-track phase.

Define: “What does success look like?”

Now it’s also time for project expectations. Maybe the initial expectations were high, and later they went down. Now we should state “what does success mean?” This is the most effective way to write down what are the outcomes expected from the project activities we are planning. Completing activities is not the right project focus. The right project direction is meeting the success factors. Sometimes we are just focused on activities, critical path recalculations, crashing the project, etc.

A good understanding by the Project Manager about “what does success look like” will help to visualize what really matters and therefore focus on the important things. A deliverables-centered project that works in the right direction is more difficult to go (again) off-track.

It is just a matter of “leadership with focus”

This leadership direction is established when the project starts, when there is a new project phase, and also when there’s a project recovery management plan.

In Project Management there is a funny thing. Usually Project Managers are the ones who build the project schedule and the other project baselines. And later they are the same ones who report that their project has gone off-track.

As a Project Sponsor, I must give you some final advice: Senior Management doesn’t like surprises.  Keep focused and remain realistic at all times. Use your tolerances for making smart management decisions. Report accurate project progress status and any unexpected deviations.  And Lead! Lead! Lead!

There are Project Managers that seem to be passive agents in their projects when they report their progress status. A Project Sponsor wants active Project Managers.

It is not the same when a Project Manager reports only the past (historical data) than when a PM reports ‘what is going to be done in the next step’ based on that reporting data. A PM must be a leader. Decision making is one of his/her main responsibilities: make decisions, report decisions, keep going.  Project leadership with good focus drives projects to success.

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