When should you call out a failing project to ensure you don't waste time, effort and money?

What do you do when...

The project is finalizing the business case.

It has no clear definition of the desired business outcomes.

It has no process definition of its requirements – just a list of functions and features.

The solution has been selected on the basis of what others in the industry are using "so it must be okay".

The configuration selected prevents progressive delivery, delaying the benefits until after the system’s implementation.

The benefits that have been identified are mostly spurious and only intended to get the business case past the board.

Even at this stage it is quite clear that the cost to deliver will double before the project is finalized.

Attempts to improve the situation fall on deaf ears.

The project team point to the brand-name consulting firm involved as proof that all must be okay. The consulting firm can see years of fees ahead and they are not going to ‘rock the boat’.

The governance team are merely focused on getting the business case approved, “Then we’ll look at the issues.” But they won’t.

But then what happens is...

After the project has been approved all will be fine for a while during the start up of the delivery phase.

The cash burn rate will increase as the number of project staff increase, but that’s expected.

Later, after a few months, a few scope changes will start appearing.

Expectations will be progressively managed down.

Then major issues and delays will arise.

The governance team will panic and totally focus on cost containment and achieving ‘something’ for the monies already invested.

The focus of the project team will be on cutting scope to meet some revised ‘latest’ or rebaselined schedule.


‘Something’ will be delivered, installed and implemented.

Workarounds will be created to cope with the shortfalls of the new system.

Some if not all of the systems originally identified as 'to be replaced' will be found to be needed.

No one will be looking for any of the promised benefits.


So, when should this disaster in the making be called out?

In your organization when would such a project be stopped?

In most organizations the true answer is never leading to massive 'waste'.




Topics: Value Delivery, Project Controls, Costs and Waste, Program / Project delivery

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Nov 2011) as "When Do You Call Out A Failing Project?"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections