CQU Project Management education

How to deal with a limbo project

We all have one hiding over there in the groan zone. It’s the unfinished project that lives in a strange sort of limbo. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb reminds us in The Black Swan, the longer a project goes unfinished, there is an exponential increase in the time to finish the project. Sound familiar?

So, when you see them lurking there getting dusty and forlorn, what should you do about them? How can you move these projects from limbo to liberation (aka completion)?

Here’s my Project Liberation Checklist:

1. Look at all your unfinished projects. Which ones are still relevant? What’s important, and what no longer matters?

2. What can be recycled? Those projects that have expired or no longer matter can still be useful. Look at them, and see if any of the project assets can be reused somewhere else. For example, were there any lessons learnt that you can reapply? Why did these projects stall, and what put them on the backburner, and could you have prevented it?

Also go through your documentation, and pull out any golden nuggets such as charts or research or any data you can build on.

3. Choose the projects you’re going to finish. Once you’ve chosen the projects you are going to finish, then you’re going to reboot them: just like your overworked computer. However, this reboot is different from all the others, because you are going to finish this project in three months. Three is a magic number here. Why? Because in three months so much changes.

4. Make changes for the better. During your Project Reboot, here are things you need to look at and probably change:

  • Your goals
  • Your project plan
  • The project schedule and cost baseline
  • The project team

Key questions to ask:

  • Has any of the technology that’s important to this project changed? Are you sure? Talk to your best friends in IT, and consult with them to make sure.
  • Has the strategic direction of the organisation changed? Is there new management, a merger or acquisition, or any new threats or opportunities? While this project was in limbo, did any key things in the environment change? This is important because if you lob the project back out there without considering the changes, it will flounder again.

5. Rally the troops around this liberation. It’s important to get your team excited and let them know you’re clearing the decks of the old projects so your team can focus on the projects that are most important.

Why do we care about those projects in limbo? Because a bunch of unfinished projects suck the lifeblood out of organisations and keep us from moving forward. For the project manager, unfinished projects are our nemesis. We
need to tackle them, evaluate them, recycle their assets or finish them.

And just like life, when you look back, what is the difference between success and failure? It’s crossing the finish line. See you there—I’ll be the one cheering loudly.

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