Managing projects isn’t easy, and sometimes – perhaps more often than might be good for any organisation –projects can go a little off track.

When it comes to ‘change’ projects, though, surely this doesn’t matter? Change is good; change is needed; change drives, well, change. In fact, the strategic direction of any organisation is achieved and steered by change.

What is more, we have a world of increasingly skilled project-managers to lead this change. But – and there is always a ‘but’ – the reality is that when change projects do go off track, it can have a cost impact in the short term, and an impact on customer retention, employee satisfaction and growth in the long term.

So, what can be done in practical terms to turn the situation around?


Cause and effect

Making sure projects stay on track from the start is a far more effective way to manage them than attempting to wrestle a ‘bad’ project back into a ‘good’ state. Still, let’s look at the five common reasons why projects go ‘bad’, and therefore off-track, and consider ways to rescue them.

1. The project manager has not been given a realistic amount of time to manage the project and do the job properly. Perhaps this is due to the pressures of other work, resource availability or competing projects.

So if the project is off track, do you need to allow the project manager to focus solely on this one? Is it important enough, or do you need a new project manager to step in?

2. The executive project sponsor is not good enough. They leave the project manager to just get on with it. In the event of a faltering project, do you have a project sponsor development programme in place?
Is there an alternative sponsor available to help or even take over? Do you have a project management office, or similar, ready to step in?

3. Once the project begins, risk is never considered. This can lead to nasty surprises. If an unexpected issue is derailing the project, can you bring in some additional subject matter experts to advise on issue resolution?
While you are at it, can you run a full risk assessment for the project, here and now, in its current state, to prevent the arrival of further risks causing problems?

4. There is no effective communication. The right information, delivered in the right way, at the right time, to the right person, is the only effective model that works. Can you do some forensic work on the communication plan and stakeholder engagement to find the gaps and fill them?

5. Lastly, what about the scope of the project? People say ‘yes’ much too often. Change is both the greatest opportunity to a project manager, but also the greatest risk. Can you identify changes – official or unofficial – that have been absorbed by the project, and can you take an objective view on their value to the organisation?


Objective insight

As a final thought, consider this. For any, or all of the above reasons, you may well consider arranging an external review, or health check, of your projects to identify common exposures.

Don’t be afraid to get some help here: objective insight often brings about real clarity of the root causes behind problems in projects.