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

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:

"Taking an observation at the pole."Risk Management Risk: II
Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. Here are some guidelines for reducing risk management risk arising from risk interactions and change.
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When reality trips up our project plans, we improvise or we replan. When we do, we create new risks and render our old risk plans obsolete. Here are some suggestions for managing risks when we improvise.
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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.
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In complex projects, things might have gone wrong long before we notice them. Noticing them as early as possible — and addressing them — is almost always advantageous. How can we reduce the incidence of undetected issues?
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When suppliers have a customer orientation, we can usually depend on them. But government suppliers are a special case.

See also Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The future site of 2 World Trade Center as it appeared in 2013Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnd on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

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