Stop Fire Fighting and Do Your Day Job

Apr 13, 2018

Let’s face it. How many projects have you been involved with that were planned and executed to perfection? How many have been delivered on time, on budget and with scope and requirements fully met? And how many times did you achieve all this without any conflict between stakeholders, the core delivery team and vendors? I bet the answer is bugger all.

Often you’re faced with projects that are out of control – budget blow outs, scope creep, schedule over-run and your project manager’s unable to provide you with the facts.  You’ve lost confidence in your delivery team.  And worse still, your peers are losing confidence in you.  Your credibility is on the line.  You’re fighting fires.  And you’ve no time to do your day-job.  The project is red.  You need to do something differently.  It’s what you do next that counts.

‘’In project rescue, admitting the problem is often the hardest part, but it is the necessary first step to recovery.” – Rick Freedman – Consulting Strategies Inc

You can’t do it yourself.  You’re already knee deep in the weeds and the delivery team are getting pissed off with your micro-management.  And they’re burned-out from your repeated requests to work nights and weekends.  It’s no good asking the incumbent PM to lead the recovery either … remember they couldn’t tell you how you got in this position so they won’t have the foggiest idea how to get out!

You need to restore visibility, control and confidence to your stakeholders.  It’s time for a radical intervention.  The single most valuable action that you as project sponsor can take is to approve funding to bring in a recovery specialist. This sends a clear message to the project team and the wider business that correction of the problem is being owned and taken seriously.


Selection of the right recovery manager is critical to the likelihood of recovery plan success. The executive team needs to choose someone with no affiliation to the project. Objectivity is key. The ideal recovery manager is an independent, battle-hardened delivery specialist with recovery experience and a strong technical background.

Engaging an independent third party as a recovery manager has a number of advantages:

  • Objectivity – a third party provides an objective view with no pre-conceived ideas, perceptions or opinions. They defuse emotion with facts and are clinical in their implementation of fact based corrective actions to address the root causes of problems.
  • Management style – a new management style is often the catalyst to energise a fatigued delivery team and to restore control and confidence to stakeholders.
  • Experience – an experienced recovery manager brings ‘war stories’ from other large scale project recoveries and instils an unwavering belief in the delivery team that ‘we can do this’. They know how to bring a team on the delivery journey and they understand what is required to get your project over the line; meaning you can get on with your day job
  • Expertise – you need pragmatists … not agilists.  A seasoned third party brings multi-discipline capability and experience and is delivery methodology agnostic.
  • Abstraction – this is classic ‘good cop/bad cop’.  A third party will objectively recommend people changes and/or scope reduction in order to stabilise the project.  Meanwhile you as sponsor avoid animosity from the incumbent delivery team stakeholders.

The sponsor and the exec have taken the first and most important step.  They’ve accepted that they have a problem and have taken action to resolve it. A recovery manager has been appointed and the rules of engagement and criteria for success have been defined. You’ve now got everyone’s full attention and support. Now it’s time to find out the facts and build a recovery plan.

Next week, we’ll look at how you go about identifying the root cause of the problems and how to plan and negotiate a successful recovery.