Make sure the path is clear before you embark.

Make sure the path is clear before you embark.

Rescuing a troubled project takes more than waving a magic wand and it almost never makes sense to immediately dive in and begin making changes.  As noted before, projects get in trouble one decision at a time, having a process to gather information about the project and then plan the intervention reduces the risk of adding to the burden of bad decisions.

UntitledAssess the Project: The first step is to determine whether the project is really troubled and warrants an intervention or, even more importantly, whether the project can be saved.  The process for assessment will be reviewed in the next installment.

Plan the Intervention: Once you have assessed a project and determined that a rescue makes sense, the intervention needs to be planned.  Use an Agile approach to planning the rescue process. That is, start by building and prioritizing a backlog based on the assessment.  Using the prioritized backlog the changes can be grouped into releases (a change release plan) that avoids a big bang approach. Big bang approaches might be required if the project requires a critical level of intervention, however the big bang approach requires a lot more coordination. Just like in any Agile project, the backlog is dynamic and change the intervention progresses. It is important to involve the appropriate team(s) in planning the implementation because it will help to build commitment.

JumpStartsm the Rescue: The JumpStartsm should use the following steps:

  1. The team should stop what is to be changed cold turkey,
  2. Show the team the team how to do the new technique by performing the task with the team,
  3. Gather immediate feedback and tailor the process,
  4. Transfer technique ownership with just-in-time training and coaching, and
  5. Withdraw coaching as the team gains confidence.

Coach the Team: After the JumpStartsm, you need to maintain effort to keep the project on the straight and narrow until the new set of behaviors can become muscle memory. A coach provides a constant addition of energy into the process so that the team does not revert to old behaviors. Think about any sports team you have practiced on. The coach’s role is to support the team, but it is outside of the three standard Scrum roles. One of the primary roles of coach (as opposed to the manager) is to provide training and feedback so the team members can improve.

Celebrate: Change is difficult and those doing the changing will require feedback to continue to change. Feedback needs to include both positive and negative components to be effective in the long term. Celebration is a component of the positive feedback.  Celebrate getting the project moving in the right direction; don’t wait for the end of the project or a release to provide positive feedback.

There are lots of troubled projects and there are a wide variety of reasons projects get in trouble. Before we intervene, we need to decide whether intervening makes sense, and if it does, then we need to make sure we have a plan.  A poor or unplanned intervention can lead to project failure just as easy as doing nothing will.  Most IT departments would rather avoid the black eye of a failed project. Therefore you need to have a process in place for intervention. It will pay benefits because then there will always be a bias for action.