When Your Project Implodes, 10 steps to sift through the ashes

You just got out of your stakeholder’s office. Most of your tail has been chewed off and the rest is tucked squarely between your legs ….. now what? It is time to let your leadership shine through! Use these steps to pull your project out of the ashes and make things right.

1. If you didn’t take notes during the meeting, go back to your office and write down everything including the good, the bad and the ugly. This will help you to sort out the details instead of trying to do it all in your head which is likely reeling from the chewing.

2. Categorize the talking points into the things you can fix, the things that you cannot fix and the things someone else can help you fix. This will help you to focus on the things you can change without the noise of the unfixable cluttering your mind. Put these on three different pieces of paper.

3. Take a deep breath and step away for a bit. As long as the pain is still fresh, you won’t be able to think very clearly and will likely make a few knee-jerk decisions ….. these will not serve you well.

4. After clearing your head, start formulating your get well plan. Plan out your actions taken from the meeting as well as what you can do to fix the things you could have prevented. This is your own personal lessons learned exercise.

5. Work with the person/people who can help you fix the things you cannot fix yourself. This may be a functional supervisor of a team member that missed key deliverables. This can also be your boss, or stakeholder … asking for help is not a further sign of failure.

6. Communication

7. Communication

8. Communication … keeping your stakeholders uo to date on progress,  risks, issues, and successes will only help to rebuild the trust that was damaged. Don’t wait for the status report, sometimes,  that is too late.

9. Throw away the items you wrote down that were completely out of your control or sphere of influence. You cannot do anything about them so stop looking at them.

10. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go fix it.

Every project manager will experience bad failures at some point in their career.  Sometimes it happens more than once. You are no different, but if you learn from the mistakes …. truly learn from them, then you can avoid making a habit of it.

Good luck, and power on!

What have you done to fix an imploding project?

5 Replies to “When Your Project Implodes, 10 steps to sift through the ashes”

  1. Love these tips!!! I personally love to just start an outline from scratch. Not toss my original plan, but just temporarily push it to the side and recreate the my fundamental building blocks. A fresh start diminishes road blocks that inhibited new paths in the original failing plan. 🙂

  2. Thank you for the comment. Yes, sometimes you have to start over and rework the plan. In almost all cases, a “reboot” is required at the very least. Lessons learned is a key component too.

  3. Hi James,

    They’re really 8 tips (that communication still counts as 1!) . On of the things that I do when I run into this problem is to ease the expectations – mainly my expectations! The project manager often has high expectations of the project (many times higher than the client). This will smooth the whole process and I will be able to finish the project. But some projects just have to be buried – no matter what!

    1. It’s good to hear from you again! Yes, I suppose that you are right in that technically, there are only 8 unique steps here, but communication cannot be under estimated.

      I love the idea of easing expectations too. I know I always strive to hit a much earlier date with required deliverables. Sometimes, it’s good to take a breath and ask yourself if you were being realistic to begin with.

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