Project Recovery: How To Clean Up The Mess

In a good mood, you arrive in the office with your coffee and a spring in your step. You acknowledge your coworkers as you make your way to your desk. In your email, there's a message from your boss requesting a meeting. Your coworker's Project X is not on track and the boss wants you to do project recovery.

Your coworker has been reassigned to somewhere else in the company and you'll get about 20 minutes for knowledge transfer and then any phone calls your coworker decides to take after he leaves.

Project recovery: Where to start?

Once you get over the shock and confusion around being assigned an ongoing project that's failing, it's time to do some assessment. Set up a time to talk with the sponsor and stakeholders of the project. You need to ask a few questions and need to hear the answers from the individuals involved. What is wrong - exactly? Dates missed? Deliverables incorrect? Budget busted? All three? Find out what the sponsors and stakeholders think is the problem. What do they expect? By what date?

No solutions yet

Don't offer any solutions yet. You don't know enough. Now it's time to go to the team.

Gather the team

Ask the team the same questions that the sponsor and stakeholders. Write down the answers and listen. If you hear your voice more often than anyone else's, you're talking too much. This meeting is not for solutions - it's for information gathering.

Time is probably important

Seldom do companies transfer control of projects because there's plenty of time to get the project complete. No doubt something was due yesterday, and now you're farther behind.

Know the documentation

Even so, part of project recovery is reading through all the project documents and comparing those documents to the answers you received from the team, the sponsor, and the stakeholders. Before you can recover the project, you need to know and understand what you're trying to accomplish.

Find some help

Once you feel you understand what needs to be done, delivered, or managed, ask your team for help. They have been involved and probably have some idea of what needs to be done to fix it. Figure out how to get some wins quickly.

Let the team help

Chances are they are just as eager to get this fixed as you and the sponsor.

Get started

Once you've got the new plan devised, make sure your sponsor and stakeholders agree. Dates have probably moved and deliverables might be changed. It's important to have facts and figures when you meet.

Be sure your plan is reasonable and accurate.

Schedules aren't magic. Development of deliverables can't always be sped up. Be honest and be frank about what needs to happen going forward. Management may not be happy, but most managers prefer the truth.

Execute your plan

Project recovery is about taking stock of what you have, what you need, and how to get there. Execute and manage your new plan, keeping management informed. Hit your dates and deliverables to prove your plan is working.

What are your steps for project recovery? Tell us in the comments.


This post was originally published on 3/27/18.

Deb Schaffer, PMP has 20 years’ experience managing projects and teams in large software and manufacturing companies. She's an expert in time management, productivity, and just getting stuff done. She resides in the Denver, Colorado area, helping companies manage training and marketing projects, writing whitepapers, newsletters and blog posts, and mentoring staff. When she's not managing a project, find her traveling or on the golf course taking notes to update her new book, Play Golf, Colorado!

Find her on LinkedIn at DebSchafferPMP and at her blog,

Return to list