Taking Over a Trouble Project


Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behaviour. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behaviour — Dee Hock

I was recently asked how to motivate team members in the face of a troubled project.

Honesty, clear goals and communication, and praise. I believe that most people want to do a good job, and will do so given half a chance.

Project artifacts such as work-breakdown structures, estimates, schedules, and meeting minutes are communications tools. They tell all stakeholders how the work is going to get done, what the progress has been to date, and when you can reasonably expect to finish. Cramming three months of work into six months without adjustment in scope or resources will de-motivate most people. Claiming progress where there is none won’t fool your team. If you can fool your team, why would you want them working on salvaging a troubled project? Sometimes telling the truth is painful, but bad news doesn’t get better with age.

Give the team clear goals to work toward, and then visibly and publicly track progress toward those goals. People want to know how they’re doing and how close they are. Watch productivity build steam as real milestones get knocked down and the finish line gets closer. Part of a manager’s job is to protect the project from unreasonable changes, but changes can and will happen. Communicate these changes and their value clearly. This is where your previously established relationships with all stakeholders and project sponsors come in. Understanding the changes makes it easier to make the changes.

Often new managers think their job is to anticipate and find problems. This is only part of the job. The bigger part is to figure out what’s going right and promote it. Spend at least as much time on what’s going right and what people are doing well. It might be difficult at first. That’s means you’ll just have to dig a little harder.


One response to “Taking Over a Trouble Project

  1. Pingback: Don’t Start Yelling « The Practical Manager

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