Strategies for Project Recovery

A new study shows that more than a third of projects are at risk and, not surprising, a key factor for recovering troubled projects is the actions of the project managers.


New results from a PM Solutions study titled “Strategies for Project Recovery” show that the actions taken by project managers are critical factors in successfully recovering troubled projects. The study finds that the average firm manages $200 million in projects each year, and more than a third of those projects — $74 million worth — are at risk. But when project managers work to set troubled projects right, they are successful at least 75 percent of the time, according to the study.

“Project managers not only play a significant role in addressing the root causes of troubled projects, they are the key resource in effectively managing the process to recover them,” said J. Kent Crawford, PMP, CEO of PM Solutions, Glen Mills, Pa.

PM Solutions surveyed 163 high-level project management employees from large, mid-sized and small organizations in various industries including manufacturing, health care, technology, professional services, finance and government.The primary purpose of the study was to identify the causes of troubled projects and the strategies that lead to successful project recovery.

Respondents stated that the major causes that put projects in jeopardy are:

  • Unclear, contradictory or ambiguous requirements
  • Insufficient resources, conflicts or turnover
  • Unrealistic schedules
  • Poor planning, based on insufficient data or details
  • Unidentified, assumed or unmanaged risks

The actions taken to successfully recover projects were primarily people-related, which emphasizes the importance of an effective project manager, according to Crawford. The top five interventions most often taken in a project recovery are the following:

  1. Improving communication and stakeholder management (62 percent)
  2. Redefining the project — reducing the scope, rejustifying the project financially (60 percent)
  3. Adding and/or removing resources (58 percent)
  4. Resolving problematic technical issues (49 percent)
  5. Replacing the project manager or bringing in a consultant to manage recovery (36 percent)

The project manager is the lynchpin in these efforts. Almost all organizations surveyed (92 percent) rated the skill and knowledge of the project manager as very important (64 percent) or important (28 percent) to the success of the recovery. Additional findings show that firms that used a standard project management methodology led by experienced project managers (78 percent of participants) had less than half as many project failures to begin with.

Interestingly, the survey revealed different levels of project recovery by firm size and industry. Large firms had a significantly higher percentage of recovered projects than small and mid-size firms, at 32 percent for large firms compared with 22 percent for small firms and 18 percent for mid-size firms. And certain industries reported more difficulty. Information firms (90 percent) were far more likely to have had a project recovery intervention in the past three years than finance (75 percent), manufacturing (71 percent) and professional services firms (62 percent).

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