Restarting Stalled Projects, Guaranteed
Every reason projects stall comes back to one, lack of urgency.
Foggy deliverables, inadequate resources, blurred priorities, under qualified participants, and distant deadlines inevitably drain urgency.
Save time, energy, and resources by settling the question of responsibility for derailed projects, quickly. Leaders are responsible, always.
Now that we know who’s responsible, always ask “what questions,” first. Save “why questions” for later, if at all.
“Why” matters, but, don’t meet to discuss why the project stalled. Why questions invite excuses, assign blame, and delay progress. We already know why. Someone didn’t deliver.
Determine why by asking what.
Restart stalled projects by asking three questions to each team member, privately, never in public meetings.
- What have you completed?
- What can you do next?
- When can you have the next step done?
Explore don’t blame. Momentum grows by looking forward, not back.
Regarding question two:
Restarting requires next steps to be simple, quickly achievable, and clearly observable.
Regarding question three:
Question three establishes a deadline.
You may prefer assigning rather than asking for deadlines. It depends on how well you know team members and how familiar you are with the project. In either case, set one.
Short timelines energize urgency. Ask what can be done by Friday?
The next meeting:
Schedule your next meeting the day of the deadline you established when you asked question three. At that meeting ask the three questions again.
Between the personal conversations where you asked the three questions and the next meeting, contact each team member to ask where they are and determine what they need. Remind them of Friday’s meeting.
Managing projects goes far beyond asking three questions. Use this strategy for two to four weeks to restart stalled projects, assuming they should be revitalized. Urgency enables you to deal with deeper issues and adapt as you go.
What steps or strategies have you used to restart stalled projects?
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Excellent post Dan, and kudos on the picture as well.
You are correct, the “why” can wait until much later, if it needs to be discussed at all. Skipping the “why”, “what went wrong” and “who’s going to be the scapegoat” meeting would save us all a great deal of time and angst. The goal is to get the project back on track and on legs that can stand. The rest is, well…
But what I really like is that this is a nice, tight and tidy system that gives specific dates and responsibilities with a firm timeline… the deadline IS the next meeting. That alone should keep the project and the people responsible for the project on task.
If it does not, then perhaps it is time to go back and assess why we are doing the project in the first place. If no one cares and there is no goal or benefit that people buy into or take ownership of, then the project will never get done.
Your last point is important. Be sure the project needs to be done in the first place. That includes things like, alignment with mission and vision, available resources, ROI, available talent, and more.
Thanks for adding your encouraging comment and thanks for getting the conversation started.
Great advice – asking ‘What?’ questions rather than ‘Why?’ questions – which is typically a knee jerk reactions in most situations. This separates ‘the what’ needs to be done instead of blame game response of ‘Why?’. However, at some stage the why’s need to be understood.
Often re-focusing on project goals & objectives – including project team commitment – tends to re-align purpose.
I hear on the value of asking “why.” It’s more a matter of when not if we should ask.
When projects are started why is first. Why is more of a driver. But, if worthwhile projects stall, why they stalled isn’t the first priority. The first is generating some momentum. It’s easier to steer a moving vehicle than one that is parked.
Thanks for pointing toward “why.”
Hi Dan, I’m trying to find a reason why this doesn’t work, which means it probably does. I do take the extra step for a stalled of re-visitng ‘why’ we are doing it in the first place. soemtimes the reason someone isn’t beforming is because they worked out the stupidity of it before you (I) did!
Must type slower – a stalled project, and .. performing (though beforming has some sort of funk about it 🙂 )
Yes indeed. Some stalled projects should be laid to res, quickly. Cut your losses and run.
re “beforming” … my spelling is so bad I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out… 🙂
1 on 1 meetings by there very nature are “personal” ! By virtue of asking “What can be done by…..” you are asking for a personal recommitment so follow Question 3 with a “May I count on you to deliver that” question to anchor the individual contribution required.
I love your gentle style, “May I count on you.”
While writing this post, I thought of several conversations as examples. But, with 300 words I left them out. Thanks for adding your insights.
Larry, what a great way to share power, engagement and commitment and still asking it as a question that requires an answer.
I am with Bhupendra that the ‘whys’ do need to be asked, again it may be a case of how ‘why’ is asked (with positive regard and very specific) and as already noted when.
Why is retrospective, past tense…to paraphrase Santayana, we can learn from our past or repeat it. If there is time (again sense of urgency?), drilling down in a positive way can identify where mistaken assumptions derailed the project.
Who drills down? All hands on deck, including those responsible for the project and those accountable for it, if they are two distinct groups. What are the barriers that may prevent the next milestone from being achieved…or the present tense, what are the current barriers that are stopping you now.
BTW, I have a copy of John P Kotter’s book, A Sense of Urgency, sitting right by my desk. He points out there is true urgency and false urgency. Also advocates for bringing the outside in, maintaining that urgency every day, using the project stall (crisis) as an opportunity and vigilance towards naysayers.
There’s one “why” question I’d ask first: Why resuscitate this project if there wasn’t enough urgency for it to sustain itself without life support? If there’s a why, go ahead. If you can’t articulate a good why, let it die.
I love this post. I’m trying to figure out how to use this method on myself when I stall out on a project. I am self-employed. . .
Projects of magnitude, in my opinion, are difficult to comprehend without understanding, even if its the most minimal of understanding. No matter how much the players believe in the project it may be difficult to stay focused and goal driven without project guidelines, even if the guidelines are but the bare minimum.
Absolutely very useful post. This is what I’ll deal with everyday. And I’m always asking myself why this is happening. By the way I’m hoping to have a post on how to avoid to reach this situation… Is it because of too much tasks or is it something else?
Absolutely Amazing!!! Just what I needed today. Dan, Thanks so much for doing this each day, relentlessly. Its pretty unfair that I do not reply/respond to these every day. But read them every day and share them with other who are in need.
You are doing a tremendous job. Keep guiding and enhancing us.
I really like your point about “determine why by asking what”. I find that if you have a team of self managed people on the project, they will be hard enough on themselves. I really don’t have to push the “why” questions.
I can see the value of asking the questions of team members privately, but I’m torn on this one. If you know the team members well, there is much value in having this discussion with the group. Handled properly, there can be synergy with the group discussing their opinions in open forum. This can also lead to a unified focus and renewed vigor moving forward on the project.
The three questions are great and they focus team members on the future. Whenever a project is in trouble, focusing on the opportunities helps jump start the team.
Thanks for the post!