Project in Trouble? A 3 Step Recovery Plan

It’s challenging to keep projects on track and it is just as hard to tell when a project starts to derail. Some projects start “dying” slowly, even without the project manager noticing at first. A simple recovery plan in 3 steps will work in most of the situations we face in a project.

1. Notice the signs of an emerging/established problem!

A project in trouble will manifest itself in different forms. Initially, the signs of an emerging problem might not be obvious. The following situations are symptomatic of the project entering into the “danger zone”:

  • It becomes very difficult to agree on anything, even trivial decisions.
  • The project team seems stressed, partly due to personal conflicts.
  • The project team struggles to achieve short-term goals but cannot explain clearly why, or thinks that the job is done the moment they deliver raw and half-processed results.
  • Stakeholders suddenly are either more present than usual or disappear totally from the scene.
  • The team shows a general feeling of lack of purpose in their work and lower motivation.

2. Acknowledge that there is a problem!

The longer you need to admit that there is a problem the greater its impact will be on the project.

As human beings, we are often want to take the easiest path, conserve energy and avoid exertion. Working on solving problems requires willpower and effort concentrated in a short time. This deep desire to stay in the comfort zone and to ignore a problem is normal, but as professionals, we shouldn’t make up excuses. Our work is to proactively identify and solve issues.

A common way to ignore a problem is blaming others. Be aware of falling into the blaming-trap, i. e. trying to explain failures by accusing others. Ultimately, finger-pointing does not add value for anybody, and especially not to the project.

Unfortunately for us project managers, the problem usually starts with ourselves, so we need to be ready to start to critically inspect our work, especially when it comes to communication and project management documentation.

3. First things first: focus on the foundations!

There is a reason why the project exists; it provides value to somebody.

So start by reviewing the project purpose and the goals carefully. If you have one, reread the project charter. Then, in order to regain control over the project, try and improve the amount and quality of communication until everybody has a clear understanding of the project’s purpose. Once everyone is on the same page as to “why” the project is there, you can move to the next stage by discussing what needs to change to bring your project in the right direction again.


Many projects can be steered back on track with some very simple steps. The damage will not be fully avoided but can certainly be minimized to a level in which a good professional relationship with all stakeholders can be maintained and the main project goals can still be achieved.

Share your experiences with us:

○ How do you identify a project that is derailing?
○ What is your recovery plan?

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