Even the most seasoned of Project Managers will have faced the possibility that their project may be on a path towards failure and that an early closure may be the only way to save whatever resources and time they have left. Multiple factors can contribute to the early closure of a project, including a lack of proper communication, stakeholder conflict, scope creep or the lack of a well-thought-out project plan; to name but a few. But there are also instances where projects that are on a downward trend have been closed too early due to panic or a solution that has gone under the radar.


Whether following a methodology such as PRINCE2, Agile, ITIL or in-house methods, a skilled Project Manager should have the ability to determine when a project can be saved and when it is time to pull the plug to salvage as much as humanly possible. So what are the options that are open to a Project Manager when they find themselves on a proverbial sinking ship? This will obviously depend on the reason for the troubles that the project is experiencing. The Project Manager will have to determine the factors that have caused the project to stray from it’s intended path and make decisions that can potentially rein it back in.

A Thorough Review

The logical starting point would be to return to your defining documents. These outline the exact goals and prerequisites that were determined before the project had seen the light of day. Comparing these to the reports from project teams will give you a better idea of any corners that were cut, miscommunication that occurred or where there was needless overspend, for example. The defining documentation that can be reviewed in this situation include the following:

  • The Project Brief
  • The Risk Log
  • The Business Case
  • The Project Plan
  • The Project Descriptions

After determining the factors that have led your project astray, schedule a meeting with the stakeholders and put in a concerted effort to find a way forward, rather than terminating early.

Redefine the Project Schedule

Moving the project forward is of the utmost importance if it is to be saved. Reimagine the project as if it is at its starting point as it stands. Calculate the exact amount of resources that you have available, the amount of time that it will take to complete the project successfully at your current rate and set new goals that are achievable. Meet with the project board and stakeholders with your plan of action at the ready. Your willingness to pull out all the stops to make the project success will speak volumes as to your dedication as a project management professional.

Learn from the Mistakes of Others

Draw the documentation from projects similar to yours that were undertaken in the past. Whether they were successful or an abysmal failure, there is sure to be valuable information to be gleaned from the lessons that were learned while the work was being done. Your failing project may just be brought back to life thanks to the mistakes – or successes – of other Project Managers.

The Project Team

Your project team will have to be brought up to speed with any new developments that have been decided upon. This will include any new project team members that may be added to the project as well as any team members that will not be taking part in the project any longer – if there is a need to change the structure of the team. In most cases, this will not be necessary unless your project has changed to the degree that specific specializations will fall away or if there are serious personnel issues.

Always ensure that your project team’s morale is kept at a high level. Working on a project that needs to be saved can be stressful and demoralizing, but reminding your team that their hard work is appreciated and that there is a way to turn the project around can provide a lift in their spirits and their productivity.

When do I throw in the Towel?

There may, however, come a time when the best course of action is to lay down tools and call the project for what it is – a dead end. This should never be considered an option until the very last possible solution has been considered and revised. It is, after all, not only your reputation as a Project Manager that will be affected by the final decision but also that of the organization that was tasked with its completion. But there is no point in flogging a dead horse. It is just as important to understand when a project should be closed as it is to know when it can be saved.
Juan van Niekerk
Author Bio:

Juan van Niekerk is a Content Writer and Social Marketer based in South Africa. His blogs have been published on various sites and include topics regarding project management, business analysis, web design, health and safety and digital marketing.

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