Project Practitioners > Rescuing Projects - Part II (the Informal Method)

Rescuing Projects - Part II (the Informal Method)

By Ann Drinkwater

Last month I wrote about formally rescuing projects where someone officially turns over the project to you. There are other, less direct ways in which you can be asked to help save a project. These requests and pleas for help can put a strain on the team dynamics, our relationship with our peers and other stakeholders. Following the guidelines below will help mitigate these issues and help keep your relationship in good standing.

  1. Phrasing - Instead of having your management team (and yourself) state things like "Mary will now be managing the project", soften the language by using statements like "Mary is going to jump in and pick up some of the load", or "we are going to do a peer review as part of our best practice movement", etc. This can be a slippery slope, so being politically correct and sensitive to all involved, from the top down, is key to the acceptance of a non-hostile project turnover. Be fore warned though when using less direct language. It may take longer to release the harness and move the project if you position things as someone will now be 'helping'.
  2. Executive Direction – The message that you will be working on the project should not come from you. Once the most productive presentation of the news is decided, this should initially come from the person's manager or higher. I've been in situations where I have been asked to resuscitate and manage a large program and the person on the receiving end had no inkling. Breaking the news to a co-worker yourself will not bode well for cooperation and joint collaboration.
  3. Meet with Your Counterpart – Once the news has been delivered, set up a meeting with your peer to get a feel for the project and how things are going. Neutral grounds, like an off-site location for lunch may be helpful to reduce obstacles. People can be especially territorial within their environment.
  4. Start Slow – While you want to validate management's decision to put you on the case, your success, the project's success and even the success of the company depends on you gaining the information needed to make well informed and appropriate decisions. You can go gangbusters on projects you own from the beginning, but you need to tread lightly in situations of project takeover.
  5. Take Over Agendas/Meetings – Once you have enough preliminary information, history and perspective on the project, begin to set up meetings on your own. One on one meetings can be just that, but for team meetings you may choose to invite your predecessor as an optional attendee. If you find the person is a hindrance to the success of the project or meeting, you should meet with him/her and discuss what you are trying to accomplish. Any pent up hostility will likely come out during this discussion and you should instead work to create an atmosphere of team growth, despite authority and roles.
  6. Take Over Project Details – Once you are running project meetings and interfacing with team members and other stakeholders, it is time to take over the reigns on other management aspects. Now you can begin asking and requesting all the information you need from the team. Tracking and measurement should be continued (or established) at this step.
  7. Create a Learning Environment – This phase can involve a cultural change movement if your organization is not quite as creative, energetic or growth focused as desired.  
  8. Meet with Your Predecessor – At every major change and milestone, it may be beneficial to meet with your predecessor to continue to make him/her understand the change and why the change is an opportunity for all involved.
  9. Celebrate Project Success – In this final step, you will also want to highlight what your co-worker did well and how he/she contributed to the project. Chances are the person you are "assisting" did not intentionally set out to derail the project and for what ever reason needed assistance. Our relationships, growth of our co-workers and general human care and concern should drive us to celebrating and recognizing the work of everyone involved, in a positive manner.

These steps are assuming the person you are taking over for is still with the company and still in their current role. If the person has been demoted or in another position, the landscape changes.

While there isn't a one-size fits all approach, these bullets are focused on integrity, collaboration, growth and our relationship with others.

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