Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 7;   February 18, 2004:

Resuming Projects: Team Morale

by

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.

Looking around the room, Trish saw that her presentation was in trouble. Whether it was the slide on risks, or the one on budget, she knew that people were uncomfortable with her projections. The Gang of Six would probably follow Warren's lead, and Warren was unhappy.

Resuming projects is risky,
in part, because we
underestimate the risks
of rebuilding a team
"From what I see," he said, "starting from scratch might be better than picking up where we left off. You agree?"

Trish was ready. "The operative word is 'might,'" she began. "Resuming projects isn't our strong suit. Our estimates are soft. So yes, it might be better to start over. And it might not. My estimate is that starting over would cost between 90 and 125% of the cost of resuming. But, then, the result would be cleaner and more current. It's a tough call."

Tape recorder AKAI GX-260D

AKAI GX-260D tape recorder, which has a pause function. Photo by Erkaha CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Warren wasn't satisfied. "But how could that be? We've spent — let's see — 8.3? — on this so far! How could it be cheaper to start over? And why can't you answer with a simple 'yes, it will be cheaper' or 'no, it won't'?"

Trish, Warren, and the Gang of Six are struggling with one of the great paradoxes of project management: Resuming a paused project can cost more than starting over. The paradox lies in the conflict between the reality of the paused project and our own mental models of what's involved.

One part of this conflict lies in the special challenge of team formation for a resuming project. For various reasons, team rebuilders usually try to recruit former team members, and that creates special problems. Here are some reasons why:

  • Many have difficult memories of the project from the period just before cancellation.
  • Many may have "moved on" to success elsewhere in the organization.
  • Many are no longer employed within the organization, and even if they're willing to be rehired, rehiring policies often present obstacles.
  • Current managers of former team members might not permit them to rejoin the team, or they might attach difficult conditions to their release.
  • Selectivity in re-recruiting by team rebuilders can create resentments about the exclusion of some former team members and the inclusion of others.

These factors threaten team morale. Some mitigation tactics are possible:

  • Educate the team rebuilders about the difficulties they can expect when they try to reassemble the team, and how to address those difficulties.
  • Provide strong, public, and unambiguous support from top management.
  • Conduct a retreat for the whole team, facilitated by experts in team re-formation, to deal with the challenges.

When these tactics are available, safe conversations about taboo subjects are possible, and those conversations help overcome any ambivalence about (or opposition to) the resumed project. Without these tactics, you might be resuming not only a project, but a mass of problems, too. Go to top Top  Next issue: When You Need a Lift  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

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Historically, military logistics practice has provided a steady stream of innovations to many fields, including project management. But project managers can learn even more if we investigate battlefield tactics.
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A well-known cognitive bias, the planning fallacy, accounts for many unrealistic estimates of project cost and schedule. Overruns are common. But another cognitive bias, and organizational politics, combine with the planning fallacy to make a bad situation even worse.
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Plans are well known for working out differently from what we intended. Sometimes, the unintended outcome is due to external factors over which the planning team has little control. Two examples are priming effects and widely held but inapplicable beliefs.
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In times more normal than ours, co-workers who pass on tend to do so one at a time. Disease or accidents rarely strike many co-workers in the same week, month, or year. There are exceptions — 9/11 was one such. This pandemic is another.

See also Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Browsing books in a library. So many books, we must make choicesComing October 27: Five Guidelines for Choices
Each day we make dozens or hundreds of choices — maybe more. We make many of those choices outside our awareness. But we can make better choices if we can recognize choice patterns that often lead to trouble. Here are five guidelines for making choices. Available here and by RSS on October 27.
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For organizations in crisis, some but not all their people understand the situation. Toxic conflict can erupt between those who grasp the problem's severity and those who don't. Trying to resolve the conflict by educating one's opponents rarely works. There are alternatives. Available here and by RSS on November 3.

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Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

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