Anytime is right to fix a bad project

Fixing a project that has gone bad is more about, not reacting, than reacting quickly. Your knee jerk reaction might be to shoot back a heated email or go straight for the jugular and shut down the site. When in discussions with colleagues, that’s always the first thing that someone says, “Shut down the site!” These discussions usually have to do with lack of payment, doing work that is beyond scope or dealing with an uncooperative client. Typically, we first blame everyone, but ourselves and try to shut down the situation by running away. This doesn’t work. We all know this doesn’t work. The problem doesn’t go away. It gets worse. The truth is, when a project goes bad, it really isn’t a surprise. We all knew it was coming, but we didn’t do anything about it. You can fix a bad project. You can right the ship. All it takes is a step back, identifying where the problems are and breaking them down into smaller manageable pieces. It all starts with a conversation.

Here are some ways to “react first.”

  1. Take some time to process the situation. If you have to get up and walk around the block, go get some coffee or watch a TV show, do it. Start thinking about the project as a whole and make some mental notes about where the problem areas of the project are.
  2. Do the opposite. I’ve used this method A LOT. Whatever you are feeling at the time, most likely anger, confusion, disappointment, do the opposite. In situations where a response would take a lot of time to put together, reply back with kindness stating, “Thank you for contacting us. We are assembling the team to address this issue immediately. Please stand by for next steps.”
  3. Take 24 hours. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is that when you get a heated phone call or email, don’t reply for 24 hours, so you don’t say anything you might regret. This definitely works, but depending on the situation, you may or may not be able to take that much time away.

Getting back on track

When a project gets off track, it’s usually because something didn’t happen when it was supposed to. There’s no sense in tracking down who or what happened, it’s too late for that. Okay, you will need to do a little of that, but not for persecution, that doesn’t solve anything. I’ve walked into many jobs where projects were upside down. In fact, the first day I started at one company, the person I was replacing was leaving, so we called all of the clients to do a project hand off. Every project was upside down and every client was upset. That was a rough first day.

A couple of ways to fix a project

  • Create a revised SOW. This makes sense, because sometimes when you first write the Scope Of Work, you may have missed some details. Unfortunately, those details can become big details later. Let the client know you are creating a revised SOW with a lot more detail, so everyone is on the same page going into production. Get the client to review the SOW and approve it. What this will do is get everyone to agree on features and also prevent scope creep later.
  • Create a punch list. If a project is already in production and things keep getting derailed, then you need to stop and create a punch list. Call the client for a meeting and let them know that you need to focus on the tasks to complete the project. Don’t worry, the client wants to finish too, so they will most likely appreciate the meeting. Make a list of all the tasks that need to be completed for launch of the website. If anything is out of scope, this is the time to address it.

When projects go bad, it is not fun and very stressful, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. You have to think clearly, be realistic and practical. You may have to give in on a few things, just to get the project completed. This is not the time to stand your ground, remember, you were a part of this too. Also, the client wants this project completed just as much as you do, so it’s in everyones best interest to put all of the posturing aside and just get it done.

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