Moira Alexander
Contributing writer

6 steps for getting troubled projects back on track

Mar 22, 20225 mins
Project Management

Any project can hit a snag for any number of reasons. The key is recognizing when your project has gotten off track and taking a clear, measured approach to setting things right.

convergence railroad tracks merge paths
Credit: Thinkstock

Delays are common in project management, regardless of what sector you’re working in. But once a project has fallen behind, what can you do as a project manager to get your wayward project back on track?

It’s often easier said than done, but it’s important not to panic; calm heads always prevail, as they say. But still, time is of the essence when a project is falling behind, so it is vital to not delay taking action; otherwise, your organization will be susceptible to potentially very costly consequences, as what may not seem urgent now can quickly become an out-of-control blaze in no time.

Here’s how to get on top of any project delays in short order to avoid additional issues and complications down the line.

Get to the root of the problem quickly

Accurately identifying the source of a delay or delays is an essential first step. Without knowing root causes, you could end up making a bad thing much worse. Trace the root of the issues to determine the right solutions effectively. It could be that a project is delayed by supply chain issues, which has become too familiar for many projects throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maybe, a project is off track because of resourcing problems due to limited staffing — again another concern for many businesses during the pandemic. Utilize root cause analysis tools such as Pareto Charts, The 5 Whys, Scatter Plot Diagram, Fishbone Diagram, or others to pinpoint the source. Many companies are struggling to get wayward projects on track due to a combination of these and other factors. The key is that the root cause holds the answer to resolving off-track projects.

Keep key stakeholders informed

Keeping key stakeholders informed right from the start and throughout the project is one of the most important steps when the wheels fall off the wagon. Unfortunately, this kind of communication is often overlooked, as project managers can become overwhelmed or hopeful that they can fix things before stakeholders figure out there is a problem with the project they are in charge of managing.

Transparency should be part of your stakeholder management plan; it’s best to be upfront, timely, and honest. Most stakeholders would rather know about project concerns right away and have some input. Projects are a team effort, and stakeholders can become a valuable part of helping to identify solutions. 

Lean on your team

Experienced project managers know that projects are a team effort; they understand that the best solutions are built using a team-based approach. It’s important that teams work together to solve problems, not just identify them. Once the root of the project delays or issues has been identified, it’s best to involve those team members who are subject matter experts in finding the best options for getting the project back in good shape.

Reassess the project plan and adjust the scope

You’ll need to go back to the project plan and revisit the scope to see where things went wrong and make the necessary requests and subsequent changes. This step is a must. Your organization and its projects should have a formal change request process in place to formally request, make, document, and track necessary changes. If you don’t have a system in place for evaluating scope changes, you may not only fail at getting the project back on track; it could compound the existing problems by creating additional ones.

Re-evaluate your resources

Before you jump to assigning or reassigning tasks, take the time to look back at how and when your current resources are being utilized. It could be that some are already stretched beyond capacity. Some resources could be reassigned and put to better use. Some may not be working on tasks they are skilled at, and their actual value is being wasted.

The key is to examine each resource closely to identify their skills and training — and any other factors that might have changed due to the root of the project being off track. Once you’ve determined whether resources need to be shifted, reassign tasks as applicable. Changes to your external or internal environment may require the flexibility to make rapid adjustments on the fly.

Depending on the root of the issues, budgets, quality assurance, or other aspects of a project may need to be revisited and adjusted.

Monitor and document changes

Monitoring and documenting changes may seem tedious, but it’s necessary to ensure that changes effectively get an out-of-control project back in line. This scope change documentation and monitor process is a critical best practice. Numerous project managers, teams, and project sponsors have had to revisit changes to determine whether they were effective in solving issues.

More on project management: