When Do You Kill A Project?

The project is behind schedule. The scope and objectives are not clearly defined. There are no interim verifiable milestones to monitor progress. The project plan changes on a daily basis. The project manager has no information on what the team members are working on at any given time. Resource planning was omitted. In fact, the planning phase was skipped because it was considered a waste of time and everyone knows it is only for wimps. The team knows that the project is on its deathbed. Most people in the company know that the project is in trouble except management. Sounds familiar?

By Samuel Prasad

As a project manager what do you do?

First, admit that there are serious problems that need to be fixed. Do a root cause analysis and identify the sources of failures. Draft a few options on how to get the project out of the “intensive care unit”. Present the facts to management without playing the blame game. Propose options with recommendations to get the project back on track.

But, as a project manager or as business stakeholder how does one determine whether to bring the project back to life or just kill it? Answering this question is not that hard.

  • The project is over budget and behind schedule. It will not meet the market demands and/or customer requirements in a timely manner.
  • Support of key business stakeholders is dwindling.
  • The project had poor or no planning and inadequate risk assessment.
  • Quality assurance standards were not considered important and quality control procedures were continually diluted or completely absent.
  • The project was not staffed with resources with the proper domain knowledge and technical skills.
  • The project was poorly monitored. Key performance indicators (KPIs) and interim deliverables were not defined to monitor the project.

If your project suffers from one or more of the above conditions it has reached a point where its viability must be seriously examined and while it is not an easy decision to kill any project it may be the right decision in this case.

A scorecard is a good way to keep tabs on the health of a project. The first step is to define what goes on the scorecard. In other words, you need to define the key performance indicators (KPIs) or the vital signs that must be monitored against a project baseline. The extent of the variance of the KPIs from the planned baseline is used to decide the next steps of the project.

The KPIs listed below are frequently used by many companies and successful project managers.

  • Project Schedule — actual vs. plan: % difference in days
    • < 10 % add 0 point
    • 10% to 20% add 1 point
    • 20 % add 2 points
  • Milestones — actual vs. plan: % goals completed on time
    • < 10 % add 0 point
    • 10% to 20% add 1 point
    • 20 % add 2 points
  • Deliverables — actual vs. plan: % goals achieved
    • < 10 % add 0 point
    • 10% to 20% add 2 points
    • 20 % add 4 points
  • Unresolved Issues — number of issues vs. deliverables to be completed
    • No issues add 0 point
    • < deliverables add 1 point
    • > deliverables add 2 points
  • Cost to Date — actual vs. estimated: % over or under budget
    • < 10 % add 0 point
    • 10% to 20% add 1 point
    • 20 % add 2 points
  • Resources — actual vs. planned: % difference in staff, equipment, etc.
    • < 10 % add 0 point
    • 10% to 20% add 2 points
    • 20 % add 4 points
  • High risk events — technology failure, loss of sponsor, key personnel, etc.
    • 1-3 Risks add 1 point
    • 4-5 Risks 3 points
    • 6-7 Risks add 5 points

The project diagnosis is as follows:

  • Healthy (1-5 points): Kudos to the project manager and the team members. The project is on track.
  • Caution (6-10 points): The project manager has lost control of the project. If the business stakeholders want the project to be completed, they need to take over the project and formulate a plan of action.
  • Danger (11+ points): The project has spiraled out of control. It is highly recommended that the business stakeholders shut down the project.

About Author
Dr. Samuel Prasad is a renowned global technology manager with a 15-year track record in helping companies on their implementation of strategic plans and programs related to technology projects for major media, entertainment, data warehousing and financial companies in the U.S., China, Europe and India. His domain expertise extends into areas of financial transaction processing, mobile, wireless, RFID, online media, casual gaming and business intelligence. Sam is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified Software Quality Engineer (CSQE). Sam has a Ph.D. in Robotics & Computer Science from the Stevens Institute of Technology (USA), and a master’s degree in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology. Dr. Prasad can be reached at Intelligent Software Systems. Blog: http://blog.prasads.com/

Learn How To Use of ConceptDraw Office to Determine Project Health through Key Performance Indicators

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September, 2010

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