The project from hell--most of you, unfortunately, know what projects I mean.  These are the projects that do NOT deliver the needed results in the proper timeframe:

  • Delivery is delayed. 
  • Scope creeps. 
  • Responsible parties do not deliver appropriate solutions on time, on budget. 
  • Team members are frustrated, perhaps due to the incompetence of other team mates or elements beyond their control.
  • The system does not work as expected.
  • The client never seems to be happy. 

The issues/problems go on, on, and on.    The 80/20 rule may be at work-20% of the projects bring 80% of the headaches. 


Here are some lessons, arranged in line with the 4-stage Pursuit of Passionate Purpose process, learned from my clients on how to turn the project from hell around.


Find Your Passion and Stick to It. 

  • If a potential project is interesting and intriguing, but not consistent with your values and does not leverage your core competencies, i.e., your passion – Say No!  
  • Do a risk/reward assessment.  The key is to do a good assessment ahead of time to screen out the most likely problem cases before they turn into nightmares.  Do a situation analysis – find out what problems have occurred before or exist now; ask  why.  If the risks are high and the reward low – Say No! 
  • Screen for project criteria as well as for the people involved.  If the people involved in the project are difficult or suspect—Say No! 
  • Sometimes it is not easy to say no—however, it is easier if you can give a reason why an alternative approach would be better.  “Thanks for considering me for xyz project.  However, I am booked until next year and know person A has the experience you need.”  If you say no to projects that are not a match and are a set up for failure, you will be able to say yes to others that are winners. Say no to the 20% of projects that bring the 80% of the headaches.


Align Passion with Clear Purpose. 

  • Clarify the project definition. Make sure you have a clear description of the project upfront.  Agree on the scope of work, detailed requirements/specifications, and success factors.  Only agree to handle those parts of the project you can influence.  Make sure project boundaries are clearly set so that parts beyond your control are outside the scope. Get all it in writing. 
  • Ensure that everyone knows what to expect and by when.  Put down in writing what is expected by all parties.  Determine project liaisons and their roles.  Clarify how communications will take place and with whom.
  • Ensure a rigorous process is established for completion of the requirements and make sure the entire team abides by it.  Put together and get agreement to a project schedule including the amount of time allocated for final test and approval. Demand that leaders for certain segments of a project follow an agreed on process.
  • Specify a test plan – what steps will be taken to ensure that the system is delivering to the requirements, who will be doing the testing, how long is the test period. 


Pursue Purpose with a Competent Team. 

  • Make sure that the proper players, including high level champions, are involved. Get agreement upfront on what active participation is needed and who will ensure it takes place.  What will happen if this participation does not take place?  Specify what other resources / people are needed and what budget there is to cover this expense.
  • Only allow proven, high competent people on the team.  Especially if you have not worked with certain members before, interview them carefully to ensure tangible evidence of past performance.  Past performance is the best indicator of future performance.  Make sure you check references.  Dig deep to talk to references from the references. 
  • Notice any red flags.  Trust your gut and your head.  Take action to correct problems when they are small so they don’t get bigger.
  • Have a tight contract and put in escalating penalties for not meeting budget and deadlines.


Assess Progress.  

  • Especially with a new project and team, you need to constantly be monitoring results and readjusting.  Keep track of what progress has been made and what has not been made.
  • Issue regular status reports to keep all parties informed – communicate, communicate, communicate.
  • Make mid-course corrections along the way.
  • Smile, believe, and allow the project to flow.


How do you avoid hell and stay in heaven? Say no to certain projects, say no to working with incompetent players, and say yes to important project management processes. These three factors will improve your business and project performance.


Theresa M. Szczurek (www.TMSworld.com and www.PursuitofPassionatePurpose.com)


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