Why are we so opposed to killing projects? Are we too scared to let go? Is it due to the inflexibility of bureaucratic processes? Or is it based on project stakeholders’ disbelief that the project and management thereof will actually fail?
Let’s face it though, there is no shortage of examples of failed projects. The Lesotho Highlands water project, for example, although still ongoing, has largely been considered as unsuccessful. The aim of the project was to divert fresh water from Lesotho’s mountains to sell in South Africa and be used for electricity generation. The main contributors to its failure status, however, include mismanagement of project costs, a lack of planning and insufficient research into the viability of the project before starting execution.
This brings us to a difficult question: when is it time to “kill” a project? In this article, we consider reasons for ending projects, when to do it and how to ensure it is done in time.
Why we’re not killing projects
Although project management requires faith in a project and a certain tenacity to continue on despite difficulties and challenges, a fanatical belief in the inevitability of its success can blind stakeholders to increasingly negative feedback.
Additionally, the fact that many organisations don’t have a formal approach to killing projects means that even if they should end one, most do not know how to even begin to do this. This may be due to the lack of a well-understood and documented governance process that allows for defined stages and gates, each with a set of key performance indicators that define the viability of the project at each gate.
When should a project be killed?
There are various reasons for killing a project. The most important consideration should be whether it’s going to provide benefits that are aligned to the strategic objectives of the organisation. The project may not have been properly aligned from the outset, management or priorities within the organisation may have changed, or the business environment may have evolved in a way that renders the benefits obsolete. Whatever the reason, projects need to be reviewed regularly to ensure that they will deliver outputs that are valuable to achieving the organisation’s goals. If a project does not contribute, or its outputs will not add value, the project should be killed.
What management measures can be put in please to ensure a project is killed when necessary?
Project teams invariably feel ownership of their projects and are very often unwilling to let their projects go. Specific, objective measures therefore need to be put in place to ensure projects are not continued stubbornly, only to make a loss or fail in the end.
Step 1: Try to see it from both perspectives
Assemble the project review committee with people from both spectrums: those who are openly enthusiastic about the project and those that are more sceptical. This will allow for refreshing and realistic input into the project to ensure all stakeholders stay grounded and can make objective decisions about the project.
Step 2: Identify exit champions
Exit managers or champions should be identified. These should be senior people in the organisation who will question the prevailing beliefs, investigate data on the viability and success of the project and, if necessary, make the case that the project should be killed.
Step 3: Follow the defined stage gate process
The decision on whether or not to kill a project should take place within a stage gate meeting. During the stage gate, the governance committee considers each project in terms of key performance indicators to define and predict the success or failure of the project. These metrics should include: schedule and budget variance; risk; competitive landscape; market fit; and project priority. Based on these factors, it becomes apparent whether a project should be killed to prevent significant loss in the long run.
A well-documented, well-understood stage gate process assists organisations in killing projects at the appropriate time. If no such stage gate process exists, the organisation should incorporate such a process in their methodology.
Step 4: Document lessons learned
Once the decision to kill a project has been made, care should be taken to document the reasons and lessons learnt. All contributing factors to the project’s failure need to be analysed and documented to allow the organisation to learn from the event and prevent the same mistakes during future projects.
A project management tool like Project Portfolio Office (PPO) can assist teams in gathering the necessary data to critically review projects, capture and store lessons learnt and provide the necessary visibility to kill a project when it is necessary. Try a free 30-day trial of PPO today at www.go2ppo.com/try.php.
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