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The Halloween guide to killing zombie projects

Adeline Teoh
October 31, 2011

There’s nothing worse than working on a project you know is dead. Somehow this project is still walking around but doesn’t realise it should be lying peacefully in a grave with a very heavy stone slab on top. Here’s our handy guide to spot and kill a zombie project.

Traits of a zombie project

Mobile but technically dead: Zombie projects look like they’re just a little slow, as they stagger along with a vaguely triangular skeleton of schedule, scope and budget. All its benefits appear to have decayed.

Lust for brains: A lot of resources have been thrown at this project and its hunger for people has been insatiable. Either the zombie project gobbles up the people or the people start to turn on the project, plotting ways to kill it. If you keep losing people to a project, it may be a zombie project!

Non-communicative, groaning and howling instead of speaking: All rational communication has been lost in the project. If the project sponsors, team and stakeholders can do nothing but lament, you may have a member of the undead on your hands.

How to kill a zombie project

Starve it of resources: Without resources, zombie projects will die a natural death. Redeploy your juicy, juicy brains—er, I mean people—to other more worthy projects and siphon off the budget. While this is the most passive way you can kill a zombie project, be warned that it is the least permanent as it leaves the possibility of the corpse being reanimated.

Decapitate it: Aim for the head and decapitate the zombie project with a fully loaded business case. You’ll also find that if you flaunt your business case at every opportunity, stakeholders tend not to argue with you about the now-truly-deceased zombie project.

Find and stop the zombie master: Understand why the zombie project is still alive: there’s always a ‘zombie master’. Identify the master—it may be a project sponsor or external stakeholder—and find out why s/he is keeping the project going. It may be related to personal KPIs or even ego.

Many thanks to Ian Sharpe and Michael Hickey for their zombie-killing advice.

Adeline Teoh
Adeline Teoh is the editor and publisher of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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