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Considerations for picking up an in-flight Project

As a consultant I've had the telephone call a few times "Can you come and pick up this in-flight project?". Sometimes the client mentions the word "recovery", sometimes not, but if you assume the worst you typically won't be disappointed! In any event I always look to assess the health of the project within the first few weeks and in this post I'll take you through the approach I take.

Start with the Project Definition

My first reference point is to read the Project Definition document as this is the foundation of any Project. Checks I make include:

Look for the Business Case too

  • Is there a Business Case?
  • What is the linkage between the Business Case and the Project deliverables e.g. specific requirements to be met

How has the Project progressed against the plan as stated in the Project Definition (Evidence of Monitoring & Control)?

Evidence of Project Governance happening?

I will look for evidence of good Governance processes in place
  • Are there future Project Board meetings in the diary?
  • Is there evidence of previous meetings - Project Board Packs and Minutes/Actions?

Above all - listen to people

You should organise meetings with various stakeholders and key Project team members, fire some open questions and listen to how they respond. This should reveal useful information and views about the status of the Project as well as attitudes and the human side in general

Conclusions and an Example

You have made your assessments and you need to need to decide what remedial actions are required, if any. Sometimes you may need to have some hard discussions with your Sponsor and Project Board. You need to do this in the first few weeks before your "honeymoon" period has ended.

I remember one in-flight IT project I picked up for a new system development and assessed there wasn't a 1 in 100 chance of making the "planned" delivery date even with remedial actions despite the project being reported as on track. I had "the hard discussion" face to face with the Sponsor to say this and stated that I would replan, descope some functionality to deliver the remaining key functionality as soon as possible (I gave him an approximate date and confirmed within 2 weeks) and essentially prove the team could deliver something versus cancelling the whole project. 

Clearly he was not happy at all but eventually agreed to this approach. Based on good evidence of progress towards hitting the delivery date (which we did), he agreed the additional funding to deliver the Release 2 (the remaining functionality which was de-scoped from Release 1). So a (reasonably) happy Sponsor in the end and a Business Case that was not too badly compromised.

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  1. Thank you so much for this helpful article, Its a friendly reminder for me to look out for a whole lot of things before proceeding to take on an in-flight project.