Friday, December 9, 2011

When Your Project Depends on Other Projects that are Struggling

Managing a project to a successful end is hard enough as it is. Most of the time your project is a one-time effort and it is completely standalone – other than the fact that it likely integrates with some existing technology and business practices. Those, of course, become integration points and separate tasks in the schedule as well as areas of testing concern and highlights as the project moves on towards deployment.

Now consider the scenario where your project depends on the outcome or progress of one or more other projects. Projects that you likely aren’t even leading, but must be involved with to some degree to ensure proper testing, handoff of information, timing of training and deployment, and to ensure that any solution integrations are properly aligned. If those other projects are running smoothly, then you have no issues. However, if there is a delay or an issue with one of the other projects – and most projects do experience delays and issues along the way – what do you do? How do you handle it? How does it affect your project?

In the few cases where this has either been an issue for me or appeared that it would be, these are the steps I setup to get corrective action rolling…

Discuss with the customer

As this has always been the case with interrelated projects for the same customer, that customer is an integral part of the team on each project and a key decision point for any action going forward. If that customer is not already aware of the impending critical problem, then you – and the other project manager if the struggling project is not also yours – must sit down with the customer and relay the issue to them. Keeping a significant problem from the customer will only delay the inevitable and can serve to cause trust issues should the customer discover the problem before it comes from your mouth.

Brainstorm with the other project managers and teams

You and your team must then work cohesively with the project manager and team on the struggling project to determine what their issue is, how quickly it can be resolved, what impact it has on their schedule, and then what the overall impact on your project and schedule is or will be.

Develop an action plan

Next, set about documenting possible action plan scenarios. Will more or different resources on the struggling project help solve the issue? Will more money do it? Are the struggles due to issues at the customer level? Do some requirements need to be further defined and if so, what re-work might be involved.

Once this is determined then – and only then – can you figure out the best and most cost-effective and least detrimental course of action to recommend to your leadership and to the project customer.

Circle back with the customer

Finally, return to the customer with the proposed course of action. Clearly detail to them how the struggling project is going to get back on track – and this should be presented by that project manager if it is not already your project. Then present the impact to your project – the one that was running smoothly till the issue arose – and show them a new project schedule with these effects built into the scenario. If there are any avenues for regaining lost ground on the timeline due to the issues forced on your project, outline those actions as new tasks in the project schedule and discuss those in detail with your customer.

One final step – don’t forget to get signoff/approval from your customer on the overall course or courses of action you plan to take. It may seem like a small technicality, but it can become a very valuable signoff should there be any legal concerns at the end of the engagement.

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