Churchill Consulting

Project rescue 101

Project rescue 101

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  • Category:Case Study
  • Offering:Solutions
  • Industry:Project & Change Management

Organisational project gone off track?


Churchill’s Lindsey Phillips has the guide you need on the symptoms, causes and fixes to rescue your project.

Getting any large transformational program right is a tricky exercise. With multiple stakeholders, entrenched processes and attitudes, a lack of understanding of the change benefits and the need to continue with BAU, it’s little wonder things can go wrong.

However, even a program that is completely off track can be turned around. Here are the symptoms of a program in trouble, and how to rescue it.

Symptoms of trouble

It’s wise to do regular check-ins on any program management and delivery. The following list can be early (and late) signs that your project is either at risk of falling over, or completely off the rails, particularly if you have multiple symptoms showing:

  • Lack of delivery against commitments and milestones
  • Evidence of misalignment of expectations
    – Between the business and the program team with regards to scope and timeframes
    – Between the vendor, business and program team with regards to scope and capability of solutions
    – Between individuals and the program regarding roles and responsibilities
  • Significant spend without tangible or identifiable scope delivery
  • Stalled delivery with numerous time and budget change requests
  • Low confidence from any of these parts of the business:
    – The area where the solution will deliver the expected benefit
    – The program resources in that they can achieve the required outcome
    – The board or other governance groups (e.g. steering committee) regarding effective use of resources
    – Appropriate levels of risk management
    – Ability to deliver
  • Toxic team culture
  • High resource turnover

What to do….

The good news is that projects or a program that is way off track can be rescued with a little care, attention and return to the fundamentals.

We have four salient points for consideration. This is by no means exhaustive but ones we have found through our collective experience that are a recurring theme that once addressed can set you up for success.

Lead with honesty

You can’t fix a problem if you don’t acknowledge it. There seems to be a deep-rooted mindset on never reporting bad news up, whether its cultural, through fear of losing your job or the program being shut down. Instead, put it in words. Be vocal about the issues. Honesty and transparency needs to be owned by the Leadership. It demonstrates accountability and vulnerability, and that leaders ‘have skin in the game.’

Bring the issue to the surface (‘reset – refocus’)

Run a root cause analysis. Hold workshops with key stakeholder groups and really analyse the issues identified e.g. overspend on project, scope creep, lack of delivery etc.

What you will find is that an issue often has a different root cause. A really good way of bringing potential issues to the fore is the Sakichi Toyoda’s 5-WHYs .It is a simple but effective tool to frame the issues and then work towards a collective resolution.

Depending on the findings, going through this process can result in:

  1. The project scope getting a reset which will help redefine your roadmap with a better chance of success. This may manifest as a “pause” allowing space to think through and agree the way forward
  2. Reaffirming purpose and objectives, so everyone gets back on the same page
  3. Re-establishing roles and responsibilities, ensuring accountability and transparency

Get your project culture right

Undermining behaviours are often responsible for destabilising teams and focus, so this your chance to stamp this out. As you go through the process of re-setting roles and responsibilities, take the opportunity to create more clarity on how you work together, engage across levels, and what will and won’t be tolerated. While leadership need to step up and lead by example, managing change, culture and stakeholders is also the responsibility of the project team. Trust among the team is vital to successful delivery of the change, so get any culture re-set right.

Pause the project

This might seem counter-intuitive, but it works and comes with benefits. It provides the opportunity to review the project / program objectively, removing emotion and reassessing scope thereby pivoting towards a successful outcome. From past experience, having had a project paused for six months facilitated a successful delivery in the end. Resources were redirected to other work in the interim, so that when the project restarted the original team came back together and was able to continue with previously gained project knowledge.

Whilst it is tough to recognise you have a potential issue that needs addressing, you are not the first and certainly won’t be the last. These issues occur more often than project managers or the leadership wish to acknowledge.

Should any of the above resonate with you and you would like to have a confidential conversation on how we could help please reach out to us at info@churchill.com.au

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