Just because your project is on a downward slope, doesnt mean you have to give up. As project managers, we have to exhaust all possibilities to create a successful deliverable. Granted, some sacrifices would probably have to be made, but a small success is better than a total failure.
Here are some useful tips to help turn your project around:
Catch it Early
The sooner you realize theres a problem, the easier it is to fix. Many late-stage project problems are a result of ignoring early signs. Had they been addressed the moment they came up, the project wouldnt be in such trouble.
Keep a close eye on project health to detect problems early on. Many project management tools have helpful features like resource loading reports, Gantt charts, and Earned Value Analysis modules.
Start Saying No
One reason your project is in trouble might be because youre trying to do too much. Scope creep is one of the leading project killers, and project managers who learn to say no will discover that their work load becomes a lot more manageable.
This policy also includes time-wasting activities such as redundant meetings, client calls, and micromanagement. Learn how to push back. Itll save your sanity (and the project).
If its Broke, Fix It
A lot of problems are easy to solve if you just have the willingness (and freedom) to change. Supplier problems? Change your vendor. Morale problems? Change your management style. Unwieldy process? Switch to a method that works.
In practice, this is much easier said than done, especially for larger organizations or ones with a rigid structure. You need strong management support to change things for the better. For that to happen, you have to present your case to management as logically and convincingly as possible, with plenty of evidence to back you up.
Hit the Restart Button
Sometimes the best thing to do is to tear down whats already been done and start over. Ideally, this would happen early in the project, when you havent yet spent much of your budget. A quick post-mortem on your first attempt would help you from making the same mistakes the second time around.
Salvage What You Can
If the bulk of your project is a lost cause, then maybe you can spend what little time/budget you have left on a core set of deliverables. You cant fix the whole project, but maybe you can salvage a tiny gem of usefulness out of the whole affair. Who knowsthis may become a springboard for another, more successful project.
Keep in mind that these tips arent 100% guaranteed. Some projects will fail because of factors outside of your control client budget, natural disasters, or the like. But if there is still a chance of successfully completing the project, then we project managers are obligated to seek out any possible solution.
Because thats what were good at.
Image credit, Flickr, Tom Magliery