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When Projects Fall Apart

Nov 6, 2009 In Process By Thomas Lewis

It’s rare to find an organization that has not had a project stall, flail, or completely fall apart. By the time you find your project in this position (and are willing to accept it), you’re typically already “in the weeds” or “bailing water out of the boat with a bucket”. I’ll admit that this has happened to me. It happens to all of us.

When you find yourself in this position, what should you do? Or, more importantly, what shouldn’t you do?

Don’t Yank the Steering Wheel

Don’t go into extreme course correction mode. If you had a plan, believe in the plan. It’s easy to scrap what you were thinking of doing and just “wing it”. But most of the time, this reactionary thinking only makes matters worse and takes you farther away from your goals.

Review Your Goals

It’s often the insignificant details that derail your project. For example, if the goal of your site is to sell concert tickets, is it really necessary to spend inordinate amounts of time getting the Twitter widget working? Be sure that the goals and features of your project align; if they don’t, adjust your feature list accordingly. There’s always version 2.

More Cooks,Worse Meal

This is probably a no-brainer,but resist the urge to throw more resources at the problem. 80 hour work weeks, feature creep, and more meetings will only make things worse.

A better strategy might be to reduce your feature set and give your team breathing room. After all, how often have you stared blankly into your computer screen boggled that you can’t figure out a problem, only to solve it while in the shower the next morning? Creativity cannot always be scheduled.

Sometimes You Have to Say Goodbye

Most web development and design projects are not life and death matters. If the schedule has to slip, so be it. Might ruffle people’s feathers, but in the end no one will remember that you slipped a few days (exception: Spouse’s Birthday), especially if it means producing better work in the long run.

And when all else fails—when you’ve whittled the features down into an anemic product, for instance—kill the project. Take time, reflect and move on.

Have you had a project that was on a bad trajectory? What did you do to get it back on its feet? What would you have done differently? Let us know in the comments. Also, you can follow us on Twitter, or worse follow me.

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2 comments so far. You should leave one, too.

Thomas Lewis Thomas Lewis said on Dec 16, 2009

Ok, guess everyone''s projects never fail. Lesson learned! :)

Kimberly Pantoja Kimberly Pantoja said on Mar 17, 2011

Failures do not make for easy discussions.