Project Status: On Fire

Desk in office surrounded by flames

I’ve been consulting for almost 20 years and have seen pretty much everything in terms of project challenges, some manageable and some not. I remember striking a revision of an enterprise transformation program as the great recession progressed, with the client sponsor amply calling it version “doom”. There were no resources, no budget, extreme market uncertainty, and all organizational focus was redirected. The client consciously and correctly reprioritized expenditures and mothballed strategic initiatives.  Across all measures including budget, schedule, quality, resources, scope and risks, the program was beyond red, it was on fire. And it was cancelled.

What if a program or project is on fire in the absence of some macro event? When and why does this happen to an organization? 

Primarily, bad planning is the first culprit. Poor scope definition, lack of preparation, poor demand management, the wrong resource model and weak governance can send projects spiraling out of control. We’ve seen organizations burn through capital disproportionate to the progress of work, with massive teams adding limited value and progress. This is the time to refocus, prioritize a critical path, and ensure every dollar spent is a value add to the objectives. Governance, critical path and prioritization are key to recovering in this scenario. 

Another culprit for poorly executed projects is not acknowledging or accepting you need external assistance. There are merits to internalizing project work; firms can reduce spend, build internal capability, lessen the transition effort from consultants, enable staff and more. This works great if your organization has the right skillsets, bandwidth, and track record of delivering strategic or tactical initiatives on schedule with high quality. But what if the project status is on fire? Could it be too big to save alone? Are there competing priorities? The right consultants can help. We can add expertise, bandwidth, assist with heavy lifting, provide governance and integrate with staff and vendors. It just takes the recognition that assistance is needed to be successful. The cost of doing nothing is usually greater than the cost of bringing in help.

Burning projects can’t be saved with a garden hose. Call us, we have fire hoses.