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Many change professionals have been asked at some point in their career to work on a project that has gone into ‘recovery mode’. We know that project management involves inherent complexities and challenges. Occasionally projects encounter such significant challenges and setbacks that it leaves them with only two viable options: either to cease entirely or to initiate a strategic recovery plan.

In this article, we will outline the critical steps that recovery projects should undertake within the first 90 days of reset to jumpstart their path to recovery.

When a project team, or the business, realises that their operating conditions, and business effectiveness, have deteriorated to such an unsustainable and unacceptable level (eg: negative benefit realisation or significant operational risks), their final recourse for course correction to ensure any positive outcomes often lies in seeking external assistance.

As change professionals, we are often called upon to provide the essential support, advice and guidance needed to make headway in these challenging situations. Our extensive experience in organisational transformation, project implementation, and stakeholder engagement, combined with an objective perspective and unwavering commitment to achieving tangible business benefits, positions us as an ideal partner for teams facing these difficulties.

Before you start – align on the fundamentals

Before delving into practical solutions, it is crucial to highlight two fundamentals that must be agreed upon, and undertaken, before even starting any recovery work:

Collaboration and Commitment: All internal stakeholders must be willing to invest the necessary effort and to work together cohesively. Change Managers should have their roles well-defined, be regarded as equal partners and form strong alliances with new or existing Project Managers and Business Sponsors. Without this collaborative approach, project recovery efforts are unlikely to succeed as the necessary effort needed to achieve business readiness and enablement should not be underestimated.

Often we see interventions to remediate projects having a narrow focus on the technical readiness of systems, or simply on improving project governance, rather than taking a broader view also to encompass re-aligning sponsorship, leadership ownership and buy-in of project outcomes, and/or confirming that we have the right infrastructure in place to realise benefits.

Informed Analysis: Change Managers require adequate time to understand the current situation comprehensively. This involves data-driven analysis to identify what went wrong in the first place, assessing the severity and owners of the challenges, and identifying areas that require substantial intervention. Only through this thorough assessment can effective corrective actions be implemented.

Effective change resources will identify upstream and downstream risks, issues, and remediation opportunities, with particular attention to project governance and stakeholder engagement.

Initiating project recovery – the five key remedial steps to action within the first 90 days:

As we embark on the journey to revive a struggling project, it is essential to address critical challenges head-on.

Below we outline the common hurdles and our recommended solutions for each challenge.

1. An inadequate business case

Issue: The business case lacks depth, is outdated, or fails to articulate clear benefits. For instance, regulatory changes or technology advancements can render a business case obsolete.

Solution: realign the change strategy. Work closely with the Sponsor and Project Manager to clearly define the new project’s purpose and objectives, including what needs to be achieved and why. Articulate how the proposed changes will mitigate current risks and contribute to achieving positive outcomes for the organisation and your stakeholders. As Change Managers, it will be essential to ensure that we have the right alignment, messages to communicate, and the ability to engage with stakeholders effectively.

2. Undefined or insufficiently detailed scope and requirements

• Issue: Unclear scope and overlooked requirements, leading to critical components being missed out, and confusion about what it is that we need to do and/or change.

• Solution: Analyse existing documentation and work with the Project Manager to outline project boundaries, deliverables, and exclusions. Engage with key stakeholders to collect relevant information by conducting interviews and workshops to uncover requirements and then validate that it is feasible, achievable, and realistic within the project constraints whilst managing stakeholders’ expectations. As Change Managers, it will be essential to ensure we have the right foundations for conducting an accurate change impact analysis and informing the recovery change plan adequately.

Balance constraints

This leads us to a critical aspect of recovery projects: Balancing Constraints. Indeed, recovery projects often require a trade-off between time, cost, and scope. The project team will have to find the right balance to ensure positive project outcomes while managing the constraints and stakeholder expectations.

3. Deficient project governance and dysfunctional ways of working

• Issue: Lack of rigorous governance activities such as inappropriate forums (not the right frequency or the right people), no clear escalation pathways to address critical issues, or a lack of adherence, leading to a lengthy and weaker decision-making process.

• Solution: Review project governance and ways of working by prioritising three key pillars – setting up an effective structure, having the right people with decision-making power, and defining how information flows. As Change Managers, we have a key role to play in governance forums and project ways of working. Having a solid governance structure will have a significant impact on our ability to manage and implement organisational change. Establishing clear roles and responsibilities and effective forums/communication channels will be fundamental to ensuring the recovery plan follows its course.

4. No clarity, visibility of the project roadmap and key milestones

• Issue: Timelines have never really been agreed upon or widely communicated to stakeholders. The schedule is constantly moving leading to a loss of trust from the stakeholders.

• Solution: Develop a recovery plan. It should be short, sharp, and achievable (this one cannot fail). Work in short cycles to ensure progress can be monitored and measured. The first three months of a recovery project are critical to establishing good foundations and regaining trust. As Change Managers, integrating the new timelines and milestones into stakeholder engagement activities will be key to bringing them on the recovery journey.

5. Poor stakeholder management and ineffective communication

• Issue: Stakeholder concerns have not been addressed, either completely or with too many delays. Misunderstandings and misalignments further exacerbate issues in a troubled project. People lose trust, disengage, or worse, become detractors.

• Solution: Recovery projects need as much EQ (emotional intelligence) and IQ (intelligence quotient) to navigate some of the stakeholder complexities. Soft skills that change practitioners have. Indeed, critical to project recovery is the ability to re-engage stakeholders and provide the tools to support them. Stakeholders need to feel part of the project, they need to be heard and realise, or share, the reasons behind the project’s challenges to understand and participate in the proposed solutions. As Change Managers our expertise on how to lead through change, and create and build an engaging and collaborative environment will be critical. Communicate often and with transparency (including Sponsor interventions), share the lessons learned along the way, and be clear on the corrective actions being implemented to support them and the project to transition back to “normal”.

In summary, successful project recovery hinges on collaborative efforts to identify root causes, and strategically plan and meticulously execute corrective measures. These initial 90 days must be navigated with precision and purpose to enable a breakthrough toward recovery, and to sustain progressive momentum.

Go to blueseedconsulting.com to learn more about how we can support you in getting your project on track and unlock the potential of your investment.

About Blue Seed Consulting

Blue Seed is an organisational change consultancy focusing on the people side of change to make workplaces work better. We deliver exceptional and lasting outcomes for emerging, disrupted and transforming companies.

Our consultants are experienced multi-industry change specialists who hit the ground running. We know the fast-paced and high-energy rhythm of recovery projects. We think outside the box to objectively resolve issues and strategically manage up and downstream relationships for mutual benefit and expectations. Explore our service offering here.