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:
- Resuming Projects: Team Morale
- Sometimes we cancel a project because of budgetary constraints. We reallocate its resources and scatter
its people, and we tell ourselves that the project is on hold. But resuming is often riskier, more difficult
and more expensive than we hoped. Here are some reasons why.
- Team Thrills
- Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience
is rare. How can we make it happen more often?
- Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep
- We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably
is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
- The Retrospective Funding Problem
- If your organization regularly conducts project retrospectives, you're among the very fortunate. Many
organizations don't. But even among those that do, retrospectives are often underfunded, conducted by
amateurs, or too short. Often, key people "couldn't make it." We can do better than this.
What's stopping us?
- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
- Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable
to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion
of control" — might provide explanations.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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