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SPARTA Trip: STOP (in the name of love)!!!!!

Stopsign Once upon a time, there was a Human Resources/Payroll system implementation project that was scheduled to last six months.  Eighteen months into this 6-month project, the project manager resigned "due to health reasons."  My client assigned a functional team manager from IT as the new project manager, and hired me to serve as her project controller/mentor to ensure that

  1. she was successful in her new role
  2. the project completed in a reasonable and timely fashion (translated:  get it done quickly and correctly or your butt is on the line)

We inherited a fiasco.  The vendor wasn't playing nice and wasn't delivering on their promises.  Certain members of the project team were working overtime to the point of severe burnout.  Others were taking opportunity to use the chaos to go on in-office vacation.  Management was pressuring all of us to deliver something... FAST!  So, we did what any logical project leadership would do in that situation.

We stopped everything.

That's right, we stopped all "work" on the project for two weeks so that the critical stakeholders could be pulled into a war room to identify and plan the remaining work, sequence it out, estimate it, assign resources, etc.  The regrouping worked.  We baselined the project recovery plan at 1:30 AM on May 1 (the day of the next Steering Committee meeting).  We estimated that the project would deliver on August 12 (it actually delivered on August 13 - without consequence - because IT had a silly little rule that programs could ONLY be put into production on one night of the week).  Why the four month success after 18 months of chaos?

From page 103 of Race Through The Forest:

"STOP is just as it implies," started Barry.  "All work on the project should cease while the project stakeholders regroup.  You wouldn't expect a surgeon to operate on a car wreck victim if he or she were still attempting to drive the damaged vehicle.  They would need to be taken from the accident site to the hospital where the doctor has the tools to diagnose the problem and help the patient to heal and recover.  The same principle applies to projects.  Assuming you are hiring a new project manager, which is generally a good idea, this person needs time to assess the damage and figure out what to do next."

Stopping a failing project to regroup takes courage and conviction.  There will be pressure to "dam the torpedoes, full speed ahead."  Politely, yet firmly, avoid that temptation.  Giving in to the demands of executives (who very well may have contributed to the culture of project failure) will only compound the chaos.  You will be grateful you paused, reflected, analyzed, and regrouped.

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Lucia Mancuso

Maybe you were in my head the day you posted this.

Stepping back and looking at things from all angles on projects, in life with everything is always a smart decision, especially when your feeling defeated, off course and overwhelmed.

This is great advice for projects... when you keep trucking through a disaster all you feel is a pit in your stomach the whole time because you know it is the wrong thing to do. Sure there are always hard facts that show your off course but I believe their is intuition and feeling that comes along with that and you should trust your gut when it says to stop and regroup.


I completely agree that sometimes the smartest and most effective strategy is to stop all work on a failed project, regroup, rethink, rework the objectives, and then proceed with a renewed sense of purpose.

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