What Do You Do When Your Project Stalls?
I remember when our technology and consulting company started a project to develop a system for automating a key process for one of our biggest clients. This system was going to save our client a lot of money, plus, we would potentially be able to offer this solution to many other clients in the same sector. This was an exciting prospect!
And then . . .
After months of research, the client’s interest dropped and the project stalled. It wasn’t cancelled; it didn’t fall behind schedule. It just kind of . . . stopped.
When you work on a project that you’re really excited about and then stalls, it can leave a hole in your heart. Plus, it’s hard to know what kind of actions to take when the client or organization has lost steam. What do you do? The stalling of a project doesn’t mean you have to give up, or that it’s over. You just need to know how to get it back on track and save it from falling through the cracks.
Here are seven strategies to use when your project stalls.
1. Ask why.
The first step to resolving your problem is to understand why the project has lost forward momentum. There can be a lot of reasons, and knowing what’s behind the stall can set you up for what to do next. Consider any of the following considerations:
- Is there a change in leadership?
- Are there a lack of resources, or did another project become a higher priority?
- Is there confusion or disagreement over the final goal?
- Is this project still relevant?
- Do we care that it’s not moving forward?
Asking why lets you know how to approach the dip in momentum—from communicating the value to a new project lead, to offering a solution to a specific issue. And, you might realize that instead of trying to get the project moving again, the best is to drop it, or put it on hold for a later time.
2. Check your client’s engagement
I’ve found that the root cause of a stalled project is often traced to a stakeholder’s low level of engagement. In other words, the stakeholder, client or manager might not care enough about this particular project, for a number of reasons. It could be a project outside of her immediate area of expertise; one that’s imposed on her for reasons of compliance, or an admin-related project that is not exciting. As project managers in charge of ensuring that a project moves forward, it is in our interest to ensure that all stakeholders are being considered as decisions are made and milestones reached. If you see there’s a lack of enthusiasm, and your manager is willing to give you the reins, take them and get the project out of its rut.
3. Check for scope creep
There’s a overwhelming feeling brought about by scope creep. The increasing number of features that get added on, without proper adjustment in budgets and schedules, will eventually make teams feel like the more they work on the project, the farther away the finishing lines moves. If your team is working on multiple projects, the one with the scope creep issue will tend to be avoided, causing it to fall behind or even stall.
The best way to deal with scope creep is through communication. When a new feature or requirement is requested by a stakeholder, be clear about the impact this will have on the project—from resources to deliver dates. Explain that to maintain your budget and timeline, you will have to drop another feature in other to accommodate the request. If no other feature or requirement can be dropped, then talk about the updated timeline you’ll need to complete the project. If a deadline is firm, then explain that the budget will have to be increased.
When stakeholders are clear about how increasing scope affects project costs, chances are you’ll receive fewer requests for changes (or more reasonable ones). This will empower you and your team to focus on the real work ahead and keep moving forward.
4. Consider another approach
Adopting new project management methodologies can be a scary thought. It’s particularly true if the switch happens halfway through a project.
If your project is either stalling or failing to meet milestones and deliverables, a fresh approach can bring a breath of fresh air into your project environment. There are countless case studies that document, for example, the transition from Waterfall to Agile approaches, with very positive results. In this particular case study, written by SearchSoftwareQuality, the same project was managed by the same people twice: first using Waterfall, and then again using Agile. The results were very interesting, leaving Agile as the clear winner.
Sometimes looking at the same project through different methodologies can help get the wheels moving again.
5. Reignite your champion stakeholders
Projects often launch because of the vision and support from a few stakeholders. These folks are excited about the project, possess the influence, and have been champions for the initiative from the beginning.
For many possible reasons, these champion stakeholders might lose interest or focus as time goes on. And in many cases, once your project loses the vibrancy from these key people, it also loses the fuel that was helping it move forward.
Check in with your champion stakeholders and see if you can rekindle the spark that will help your project move forward. See what kind of actions you can take to get them excited about the project again. You never know if there’s an action item they’re procrastinating on that, if alieved, would charge that project forward again.
6. Recommit to managing your risks
Here’s a common tale: Poor risk management will result in a project plagued by issues. And there’s nothing like an endless sequence of issues to bring down the morale of your team and stall your project.
Risk management is one of those necessary yet oftentimes neglected aspect of projects. When I interviewed risk management expert Carl Pritchard on my podcast he shared what I considered the best advice when it comes to risk: It doesn’t have to be complicated!
Here’s what you do. Together with your team, create a simple list of risks that are both important, urgent, and likely to occur during your project. When that’s done, make sure each of the risks has an owner—someone appointed to look out for that risk before it becomes an issue.
Do this exercise on a regular basis and the likelihood of your project stalling because of unforeseeable circumstances will drastically diminish.
(Or, use project management software that’s going to take all of your data and alert you to incoming risks.)
7. Re-engage in monitoring and controlling
And finally, many projects will stall because there’s no one at the helm. Recommit yourself to monitor and control the execution of your project. Be present. Manage by walking around. Ensure milestones are being reached. Show that you care about the project and you care that it’s moving forward as it should.
As it turns out, the project I mentioned at the beginning was dropped. As we tried some of these approaches, we realized that it was not in line with our core services. and the time and resources to complete the project were not available to us at the time. It’s important to understand that even dropping a project is a way to complete it. It needed to go, and it went.
One way to keep your projects from stalling is to give them realistic estimates that everyone can stand behind. Our eBook, 6 Best Practices for Accurate Project Estimates gives you six important principles to sharpen your estimation skills.