I noticed that very few people around me understand what project rescue means. Developers usually see this as working very hard to meet deadlines. This is somewhat true, but it’s much more than that.
When does a project need rescuing?
Most projects go off-track in one way or another. Some are easy to fix due to their small scale, but when a project costs millions or more, the task is more challenging than throwing in extra hours.
A project is considered off-track when it becomes apparent that it might not be delivered as promised: over budget, of inferior quality or scope, late, or not at all. Seeking help in that case is not a sign of weakness or incompetence, but a sign of wisdom. Just like with the dentist, you will be wise to get that cavity fixed, because you can’t take painkillers forever; the tooth will eventually rot. The earlier you get help, the better.
Who can help?
The best people to rescue a project are not your lead developer or the project manager. If it were so easy, the problem would have been solved already or would have not even occurred in the first place.
Most teams struggle with getting back on track because they already have a certain vision of the project. An expert external to the project, or better yet, external to the company, will question things that everyone else takes for granted.
Also, when projects go off-track, there is the fear that heads might start rolling, which usually causes people to begin withholding information. Project rescue experts have the skills and experience dealing with exactly these situations.
Beware of impostors!
Some people without the proper experience position themselves as project rescue experts. Research them thoroughly. Check what their previous clients have to say. Relying on the wrong people will get your project even further off-track. Here are a few signs that will allow you to spot a fake expert.
- Never held a management position.
- Never managed a 6-figure budget.
- Has weak people’s skills.
- Always speaks negatively about boss or colleagues.
- Identifies problems without proposing solutions.
- Talks about features rather than business goals.
- Talks about the past or seeks the guilty party.
- Focuses on tactics rather than strategy.
- Cannot show examples of successful project rescue operations.
Don’t get the wrong impression. These people may be very skilled at their primary job, such as programming, but these are not the people who will get your project back on course.
What does this expert do?
The project rescue expert is a versatile problem-solver who relies on skills and experience rather than elaborate processes. Here is what a typical project rescue operation looks like:
- Understand the high-level goals of the project.
- Assess the situation while maintaining a non-threatening atmosphere.
- Identify the root impediments to the project’s success.
- Elaborate a strategy that will correct the trajectory of the project. This will not be a generic strategy from a book by a best-selling author, but a unique strategy tailored to the company and the team.
- Assist leaders in the implementation of the strategy.
- Reassess the situation to confirm results.
Remember that this person is your ally and you have no need to prove anything. Be open and truthful for optimal results. Not only will you succeed the project, your entire workforce will learn valuable lessons that will help avoid such situations in the future.
The great thing is that you can hire the same person without being in a rescue situation. You can increase your chance of success or even save time and money with that very same advice.
My associate and I will soon publish a book “Warning signs in IT projects” that will help managers troubleshoot their own projects. Stay tuned!