Sometimes projects get stuck. They stratify; they stall. We cancel them if we can, but often we press on, hoping for the best. Since we can't always tell which project elements led to the problems, we often try to preserve the very elements that caused the stalls, and eventually the project ends in disappointment or even outright failure. Usually, we get something like what we wanted, but the experience is unsatisfying.
A third choice, between pressing on with a project and canceling it, is restarting. Restarting means halting, assessing what we have, reorganizing, reassigning, repartitioning responsibility, replanning, re-envisioning. It's energizing, and it can be painful.
When you restart, put everything on the table. Introduce new leadership, new team structures, new plans - even a new vision. Restarting a project creates turbulence. And that's exactly why it works. To learn why, let's take a trip to the North Atlantic.
Iceland lies in the path of the Gulf Stream. As branches of the Gulf Stream sweep past, they spin off huge eddies that warm the island. Meanwhile, the Greenland Current, as cold as the Gulf Stream is warm, creates its own eddies as it sweeps down from the North. Where the two systems collide, they create broad vortices that bring nutrients up from the ocean bottom. These nutrients support a rich marine ecology that has made the people of Iceland wealthy.
In Nature, living systems thrive on turbulence. Turbulence disrupts stratification, increasing the exchange of material between ecological subsystems. Restarting a project
And that's exactly
why it works.By providing resources to every element of an ecological system, turbulence keeps that system vital.
Restarting a project creates turbulence. Restarting is the project's Greenland Current meeting the project's Gulf Stream. A project is a candidate for a restart if:
- It has a history of repeated schedule slips or budget overruns.
- Its failure or cancellation would be a threat to the enterprise.
- There is no clear consensus about a path to success.
Three keys to successful restarts:
- Train before you try
- Learning about restarting while you're restarting is like having a driving lesson on the freeway at 5 PM on a Friday afternoon. Restart projects with care - it can be dangerous.
- Avoid blaming
- Some people who are displaced might think of themselves as being held responsible for the problem. Typically, they aren't responsible. Unblocking sometimes requires new faces to achieve turbulence. Communicate clearly that a systemic problem, not a personal one, caused the blockage.
- Get help
- If your organization has never restarted projects before, get some help for the first one or two. There's a lot to learn.
Just as the Gulf Stream and the Greenland Current stir up nutrients to support the Icelandic marine ecology, restarting a project can support the ecology of ideas that re-invigorates the project and puts it back on the path to success. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Films Not About Project Teams: II
- Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be
about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
- Nine Positive Indicators of Negative Progress
- Project status reports rarely acknowledge negative progress until after it becomes undeniable. But projects
do sometimes move backwards, outside of our awareness. What are the warning signs that negative progress
might be underway?
- Teamwork Myths: Formation
- Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths.
In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
- Projects as Proxy Targets: I
- Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they
won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
- False Summits: II
- When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end.
The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is
in project work.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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- Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
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- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.