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:
- See No Evil
- When teams share information among themselves, they have their best opportunity to reach peak performance.
And when some information is withheld within an elite group, the team faces unique risks.
- The Risky Role of Hands-On Project Manager
- The hands-on project manager manages the project and performs some of the work, too. There are lots
of excellent hands-on project managers, but the job is inherently risky, and it's loaded with potential
conflicts of interest.
- How to Make Good Guesses: Tactics
- Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses.
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- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: I
- Some risks and the plans for managing them are personnel-sensitive in the sense that disclosure can
harm the enterprise or its people. Since most risk management plans are available to a broad internal
audience, personnel-sensitive risks cannot be managed in the customary way. Why not?
- Nonlinear Work: Internal Interactions
- In this part of our exploration of nonlinear work, we consider the effects of interactions between the
internal elements of an effort, as distinguished from the effects of external changes. Many of the surprises
we encounter in projects arise from internals.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald
Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen
had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished.
As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important
lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product
development. Read more about this program. Here's
a date for this program:
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Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati
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