How do I get a failing IT project back on track?


IT projects that hit the rocks are not that uncommon - most people who work in IT know about at least one project that was delivered late, over budget or didn’t meet client/user expectations. There are things you can do though - even quite late in the day - to limit damage and perhaps recover ground. These five suggestions are a good starting point for anyone who is struggling to manage a difficult project.

  1. Stop and review. Hold off on throwing anymore resource (people or money) at the project until you understand why the project is in trouble. Talk to the team - get honest feedback. Maybe get a second opinion from an outside consultant. Exactly why is the project in trouble? This may sound dangerously like stating the obvious but identifying the root cause of the problem and then fixing it - that might work.

  2. Change the plan. Get a realistic plan based on sensible estimates. It may be super difficult to push the delivery back again but it is worse - far worse - to keep missing a milestone because you can’t (or won’t) make an accurate estimate of how long things will take. Bite the bullet, do some proper estimating and then make a new plan. And on a software development project, take developer estimates with a big pinch of salt and double them.

  3. Simplify. Deliver less in the first instance - get something out that works and leave some of the more complicated stuff till later. Over complexity is the killer on a lot of IT projects, particularly when there’s a lot of software development/CRM type configuration. Cut features and split big deliverables where you can. And remember, users hate complicated software.

  4. Get expert technical advice. Look at delivery team expertise. One or two experts on a team are worth much more than half a dozen technical staff with limited experience - a small experienced delivery team wins every time.

  5. Get help from senior staff. It’s hard to fix a complicated project on your own. There should be some forum - a Project Board - where you can go and get input from colleagues. At a minimum it gives you a way of managing expectations and you will feel a whole lot better if you know you’ve got the support of senior colleagues.

What if it is too late for any of the above? Either you carry on as you are - and eventually you limp over the line with something - or you begin to wonder if the project is ever going to work. Some projects will fail. The hard thing then is finding the courage (and buy-in from others) to shut the project down. You have to fight the sunk cost fallacy and make the decision fast. Never easy but sometimes it is the right thing to do.