How To Turn Around A Troubled IT Project: Software Rescue 101
There are many ways a software project can go awry. Although it is extremely frustrating when you get in that situation, you will need more than a rear-view perspective to get the project back on track.
In this article, we focus on what to do to turn around a troubled IT project. Consider this a to-the-point checklist to get everyone thinking straight and moving together in the right direction together.
Sound The Alarm
A software project cannot be turned around until the problem is escalated and acknowledged. It is hard to know how hot is too hot when you are in the middle of it.
If you feel like the project is not going as it should, and the project timeline, budget, functionality or quality are in question, then it is time to sound the alarm loud and clear. Start an open discussion listing your specific concerns. The more facts you can provide, the better.
Be calm but be firm. Sometimes project teams would rather continue on their established path than change course for the better. You have to be able to stop the momentum so everyone can look around and assess the situation.
Stop The Blaming
Although software is largely intangible, you are still making something. And people feel a sense of personal connection and self-identity with the things that they make.
The first reaction to sounding the alarm may be defensiveness and blame. This is normal. But it is also destructive. Move your team past hurt feelings and pointing fingers as quickly as possible with facts, and reinforcing the shared goals. If needed, smooth the ruffled feathers with kind encouragement and confident reassurance.
Determine The Current State Of The Project
Now we get to work. You need to quickly assess the current state of the project as objectively as possible.
- What work has been completed?
- What is the quality of that work?
- Is the work in line with coding standards
- Does it meet the project requirements?
- Is it partially or fully functional?
- Is there consistency in how the work was written?
- Is it architecturally sound?
- Was the technology the best choice for the project?
If you were to draw a circle around the scope of the project, what portion of that scope has been delivered, what are the issues and what percentage is left?
Assess The Root Of The Problems
How did your project wind up here? There are several questions you can ask the team and the stakeholders to figure out what went wrong.
Below are just a few to get you going. Once you have your first answer to each question, try asking “Why?” 3-5 more times to get you to the root cause.
- Were there poorly defined or misunderstood requirements? If so, why?
- Is the team communicating well and frequently both internally and externally? If not, why?
- Does the team have the right skillset for the tasks? If not, why?
- Is there a language barrier? If so, why?
- Are there team dynamics issues? If so, why?
- Is there a lack of leadership and direction for the project? If so, why?
- Were there enough resources? If not, why?
- Did the team have the right development methodologies and practices (code reviews, code control, modularization of code/separation of concerns)? If not, why?
- Were there any technology issues? If so, why?
- Was changing requirements managed? If not, why?
- Were expectations managed when issues or change occurred? If not, why?
- Is there a poorly executed software foundation/architecture? If so, why?
- Are there issues with the client’s team members and do those issues need to be escalated to the client’s management team?
Validate The Remaining Project Tasks
Take a detailed inventory of all the tasks that remain to get the project back on track and across the finish line.
The more detailed you can be the better. This list will be the basis for your plan going forward. Does anything need to be re-worked? Are there missing foundational pieces that need to be added? Now is the time to add these items to a list and get them addressed.
Plan Your Attack
Restoring trust and confidence is hard when you’ve initially stumbled. Take the remaining tasks and create a plan that shows traction as quickly as possible. Focus on what is quick and will address the biggest pain points first. Then have clear steps with timelines and cost to deliver the final product.
You will need to socialize and gain buy-in for your plan. It is also important at this stage to make sure you are being realistic and not trying to create a hero effort to save the day. Question your assumptions. Get critical with your plan. Then get going!
Ask For Help Where You Need It
Now is the time to ask for additional help. Maybe you need a 3rd party to assess the current state of the project to gain an objective or technical view. Or maybe you need some specialized resources to fill a skill-set gap. You may even consider outsourcing the project rescue to another firm that has specialized experience on how to turn around a troubled IT project.
In any case, now is the time to be honest about your capabilities and get the help you need.
Focus Your Team
Project management is especially important in project rescue. You should have a clear project leader who is assigning tasks, getting frequent status updates, removing obstacles and reporting to the stakeholders weekly, if not daily.
Project teams who have had issues in the past may need some motivation and structure to regain their ownership and commitment to the project. The more your project leader can focus and make this project a priority, the more the team will respond likewise.
Communicate Clearly And Often
As mentioned before, restoring trust and confidence is hard. One way to turn things around and show focus and priority is to communicate status and progress often. As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done.
Keep your project on everyone’s radar so they don’t have to wonder how you are doing. When people wonder, they worry. And when people worry they can make emotional decisions to make themselves feel better. Those emotional decisions may not always be well-thought out and may ultimately add more work to your project.
Be proactive until the project is completely done.
It is challenging to turn around a troubled IT project, but not impossible. By sounding the alarm and taking a moment to step back and assess the situation objectively, you and your team can come up with a plan that addresses the project issues, brings on any additional help the project needs, and ultimately gets the project back on track and across the finish line.
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