Instructions for managers and supervisors on project resuscitation

Short description

Vika Strogonova, head of the KTS project office, discusses how to rescue a struggling project. She suggests a three-step algorithm that works for all types of projects. Step 1 involves updating the task tracker, ensuring all tasks are clearly described and prioritising them. Step 2, a one-on-one meeting with the customer or client, aims to identify critical problems, acknowledge the team’s mistakes and designate a specific timeframe for solutions. Finally, Step 3 entails a team debriefing to identify what went wrong, determine ways to avoid similar occurrences in the future and set up additional meetings if necessary.

Instructions for managers and supervisors on project resuscitation

Hello, I am Vika Strogonova, head of the KTS project office.

In an ideal world, projects are completed on time, on budget, with predetermined resources, and at the right level of quality. However, in reality, it may happen that in the process of implementing the project, the team went to the wrong place, and it starts to smell fried.

Such a project may be given to you together with the manager, or it may be inherited by you after the departure of another employee.

This material will not only deal with projects where everything is bad. First of all, I want to pay attention to the first signs that something is wrong with the project:

  • The customer wrote to someone higher up in the company about the problem

  • Before the next release, something did not go according to plan, and the team worked on weekends

  • The customer is unhappy that the stated terms have already moved several times.

Content

How to raise a project from the bottom

The algorithm I want to talk about is not tied to solving specific problems: it is universal and organizes any project. This is a basic set of measures, with the help of which the transparency and predictability of the process are significantly increased for all participants. They remove most of the root problems on the project and lay the foundation for further improvements and solutions for individual situations.

Step 1. Update the project status

The most visible tool that will show the situation on the project is a board with tasks in the task tracker. With its actualization, the analysis of the flights of the problematic project begins.

Often, managers do not pay due attention to this tool, and on such projects, the board is usually a mess.

In this article, we do not consider projects in which the tasks were not carried out on the board at all, but if suddenly everything is so bad – first of all, create a board and add columns that correspond to your process. Even if it seems that you don’t need a task tracker to manage tasks and everything is clear in the chat, start it anyway.

Algorithm:

  1. Update task statuses from right to left. First of all, you need to consider the most ready tasks: bug-fix → test → in progress → to-do and so on

  2. Check that all tasks have a description. All participants in the process must understand what we expect from the results of each task. The description should be comprehensive so that the team can get started without wasting time on clarifying questions.
    This will help you make specific decisions in the future. Even if the developer says “well, here we know what to do” – it does not mean that the task will be done according to the requirements, and that the tester will also understand the task

  3. Put grades in the assignment. The grade must be visible on the assignment card. This helps you manage your priorities and understand when things are ready

  4. Remove unnecessary tasks from the to-do column. The column should contain only tasks that should be performed in the near future

Result: all tasks are in an up-to-date status, you can use the board to discuss tasks and next steps with the team and the customer.

When the board is organized, you can quickly navigate the project and discuss project issues with the customer.

Step 2. Meet with the customer 1 on 1

If the manager who led the project is still working, then it is better to meet with the customer without him. Constructive dialogue can be hindered by the emotional baggage of the manager and the desire to justify mistakes. But at this stage it is necessary not to understand who caused the problem, but to solve it as quickly as possible.

At such a meeting, it is important to recognize the team’s objective mistakes and indicate the next steps to solve them.

Meeting plan:

  • Collect feedback from the customer. It is important not to get information on all problems, but to identify the most critical ones at this stage

  • Admit mistakes from the team, if any

  • Name a specific termwhen you return to the customer with a solution. To do this, you need to understand how much time is needed to meet with the team and make decisions. Ideally, by the end of the day, return to the customer with an action plan for the next steps

If it is clear in advance that the “root” of the problem is on our side, then it is better to immediately discuss the problem with the team and go to the customer with a ready-made solution.

Step 3. Meet the team

As part of the meeting with the team, you need to debrief the flights and discuss what was done wrong. The task of such a meeting is not to find the guilty and publicly condemn them, but to discuss problems together and develop a solution. If the team is involved in the process, the resulting plan will not be perceived by its members as another “because the manager said so”.

Check sheet:

  • Analyze the situation that arose on the project

  • Talk about how to prevent the situation from happening again

  • Discuss the steps to solve the problem and record them in a chat with the team

  • Schedule a regular meeting to monitor the team’s work (if needed)

Case: setting priorities correctly

I had a situation where on the project we showed the customer new working features once a week. At some point, the customer came directly to me, bypassing the project manager, and said that he had not seen the results of the work for a month. At the same time, the active work of the team can be seen with the naked eye.

As always, I started by updating the board. Already at this step, one of the project’s problems was revealed — the tasks for some reason were collected at the stage of bug fixing.

Instead of prioritizing the tasks closest to production, the team often took on new tasks on the basis that features were more important than minor edits. As a result, development turned into a snowball and the team could not release completed tasks.

In this project, it was important for the customer to see the intermediate results of the work to show the top management. Therefore, the main mistake of the team was the wrong setting of priorities due to a large number of tasks and a limited development resource.

For additional control, we have scheduled a weekly meeting with the team. On it, we planned the next week’s tasks, evaluated and prioritized them taking into account the risks. For this, we used a Gantt chart. This helped to define mid-term plans for the team and the customer and make the project more understandable and transparent for everyone.

Finally

When you break into a problematic project, it is important to collect feedback from different sides to get objective information about its condition.

My experience is that instead of solving all the project problems, it is more effective to isolate the most critical ones and focus on the steps described above.

When the board is updated, the customer’s headache is solved, and the team is focused on improving processes, you can start solving other, less priority problems.


By the way, we are currently looking for a middle-level system analyst. There is no detailed job description yet, but you can send your relevant experience with a short story about yourself to [email protected]

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