Learn from Mistakes: Troubled Project Recovery


Have you ever experienced this? You’re starting a new assignment, and somehow everything looks very familiar to you…

When I started my professional career after my university study nearly 30 years ago, I consciously decided against a trainee program or a professionally limited beginner position, but rather for the broad scope of learning from the many good and also bad examples within a consulting firm.

After a few years of practice, I collected along the path from the front door towards the manager’s office of a new company, already a hand-full of proposals for improvement of revenue and margin for his company. These many experiences taught me Best Practices of how to remove as many roadblocks as possible to enable for his customers to spend their money.

Through the years my advisory focus has changed to Project Management. My assets of experience from good and bad examples has grown, complemented and methodologically supported by Best Practices from internationally acknowledged PM standards.

When I’m called to a troubled project today and have done a first assessment, there mostly is a selection of obvious issues quickly identified from a pool of typical flaws one meets in all crisis projects, independent of industry or subject.


What are the dominant causes for a project’s distress?

  • Insufficient scope clarification, mostly coming with uncontrolled changes: The problem often starts already with sales, with unrealistic expectations not coordinated with the responsible execution team, and/or with incomplete or ambiguous requirements as the basis for planning. There is no chance for a plan under such circumstances, and losses are pre-programmed already at the start of the project !
  • Insufficient support from management and the organisation. The project manager should deliver, but he doesn’t get enough or the right resources to do so, he has no authority for enforcement or to make decisions, or he is left alone with challenges that cannot be resolved within the project. Often these issues derive from home grown corporate structures and from a company culture which is not mature enough for a business model where the bottom line comes from earning the money through projects, and not only by processing them. All parts of the organization have to desire the project’s success without any constraints !
  • Missing PM know-how and/or leadership at the project lead: This finger-pointing is easiest for (nearly) all involved parties but does not resolve anything. In many cases the project lead is an experienced and highly gifted subject matter expert, but he doesn’t know much about the many useful methods and tools for professional project management. Additionally he is often in time conflict with a multitude of technical tasks he is also responsible for, too much to perform his job as a PM properly. If in doubt he will concentrate on what he knows best and feels safe in – and the project’s management will suffer with all collateral consequences !
  • Pre-mature infrastructure for project delivery: It’s not even necessarily missing sufficient standards and tools that cause trouble. Many companies already have a project guideline, templates and procedures, but they don’t utilize them enough. This deficit frequently appears with those problems described above, shows up in individually deviating application of the standards, unclear authority, uncoordinated resourcing, and/or bad communication between the team and the involved functional silos. If prerequisites and environmental factors for project work are not well tuned it’s hard for projects to be successful !


This is only a small selection, and the many variations, facets and combinations are always fascinating for a project expert, and their seemingly Godly driven repetition in so many projects is startling. How much money is burned in that way – no project manager in the world can cost that much…

But if the weaknesses are pin-pointed they can be focused on and tackled together. Sometimes it needs a little time to sharpen the axe before leaving for the forest, or to build or repair the fence before re-collecting the chickens. But usually all parties involved learn best from their mistakes, with a little effort and good will they can still achieve a satisfactory outcome and ROI with the project. And finally, if it takes the lessons learned seriously, the company earns a valuable asset how to effectively prevent future crisis in their projects.

Read more about our expertise in recovering threatened projects at http://www.eobz.de/pmtrouble_e.htm



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