Unsuccessful completion – OPEN

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Topic 12.2: Unsuccessful completion

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Before we get further into the closing processes, it is important to recognise that not every project is successfully completed.

A death spiral of non-commitment...

Despite our best intentions, there are also times when projects simply ‘fizzle out’.

Commitment to the original vision fades, resources become impossible to pull together, or requirements become locked into a death spiral of non-commitment and unwillingness to move forward.

When this happens a project manager is looking at a failed project.

When faced with a project in this state, it becomes your responsibility to review what has happened and arrive at recommendations for the best course forward.

Generally there are three options that can be explored:

This is the scorched-earth option. 

If there is no hope of getting the project delivered, or if the business is so uninterested that no further progress is possible, then closing the project may be the best course. 

You should also consider terminating a project if the only justification for continuing is that you have already spent so much time and/or money on it. This is known as the sunk cost fallacy.

Any semi-complete outputs are salvaged for scrap if possible, and the rest is junked.

Restarting the project so that it delivers what was originally set out to do requires more than dusting off the project plan and restarting work. 

Often this involves revisiting the business case, and creating new baselines predicated on the existing work. 

This will include detailed analysis of the remaining WBS tasks, and whether resources need to be re-engaged, contracts renegotiated or the project schedule reworked.

Quite often, this process will start with a new project manager or team members, in recognition of the value that fresh eyes can bring to a stalled project. 

Usually such project managers are the more experienced campaigners in an organisation, as the level of skill required to successfully reboot a project is significant.

Somewhere between the two lies this option. 

Managing to a profit is a term we use to describe delivering a project that has less value than was originally planned, but at least provides some benefit from what has been done. 

In effect, a new project is created with new (reduced) requirements and schedules and budgets to give the business something to be used. 

It will deliver business benefit, albeit less than originally intended by the business case.

Clearly you, as the project manager, cannot make the decision about which option to pursue – that falls to the sponsor and/or client.

You can, however, recommend and guide and advise.

An effective project manager faced with this situation – whether on a project they started or inherited – should have the confidence to work through and present these options, and then deliver on whichever is selected.

Of course, even if the decision is made to terminate a project, closing is not as simple as just stopping work.

The closing processes that we will talk more about still need to be followed.