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Why Should you Cancel Your Project?

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If this were a joke, the punch line would be, “Before it’s done”. But project cancellations are no laughing matter.

We project managers are a pretty persistent bunch. Even when a project isn’t going well, we try our best to recover and see it through. That’s our job, after all–to meet challenges and overcome them. Sometimes this tenacity pays off, and  sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, the project gets done. But what if you’re better off not finishing the project at all? Wouldn’t you save so much more money and effort by calling it quits instead of forcing a project that clearly won’t work?

The main problem both organizations and project managers have is that it’s hard to tell when the ideal cutoff point is. So to help you out, I’m giving you a few important signs:

There’s No Stakeholder/User Support or Interest

A project could be running on time and within budget, but if the users and  stakeholders don’t want it, then you’re just wasting resources. When this happens to you, go back to the original project brief and determine the original project rationale. If the project strayed from the original direction, then you can try to salvage it by getting it back on track. If there was no change, and therefore no enthusiasm to begin with, then you may as well just cancel your project and walk away.

Project Isn’t Aligned with Organizational Goals

Sometimes the problem is the exact opposite. People could be very enthusiastic about the project, but if it’s not aligned with the  organization’s goals and strategies, then it may wind up doing more harm than good. One example would be a glitzy TV commercial that wins awards but doesn’t sell products.

Most projects that fall under this category are victims of  scope creep–projects that have so many bells and whistles tacked on that the original function is lost. If a project strays too far from the original plan, you may be better off starting over.

How to Finish a Project on Time and Within Budget

Rocky Project Performance

Some projects just don’t work out. Whether it’s poor planning, poor quality, resource problems, or whatever else, these projects start off so badly that to continue would just be building on weak foundations.

Don’t complete a half-baked project. Instead, cancel your project and do an immediate post-mortem on why things are going wrong. When you start again, you’ll hopefully be able to apply these lessons and keep from making the same mistakes twice in a row.

Timing is critical when ending a project. If you catch yourself early enough, you’ll still have enough of the original budget left over to begin again with a few compromises. Too late, and you’ll wind up throwing all that money away for nothing.

Management support is another critical factor. Pulling the plug on an ongoing project is a very expensive decision, and you need to justify your choice to everyone involved. They have to trust you, the project manager, to make the proper call. Gut feel doesn’t cut it. You have to back it up with research.

A good project manager knows when to finish a project, but a great project manager knows when to cancel it.


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