Project Recovery: First, Make Sure It’s Dead

The two hunters joke pivots on a double-entendre.  Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them stops breathing and collapses.  The second one calls the emergency services, and the operator advises, “Firstly, make sure he’s dead”.  A short silence, punctuated by two gunshots, is followed by the punch-line, “Yes, now what”.  This instantly sprang to mind when reading this article, at Ricardo Guido Lavalle’s blog .  The point of the article is that you can’t do project recovery on one that hasn’t been declared dead.  Still live projects, infested by monsters, will continue to wreak destruction until they stagger to their untimely and expensive end.  Bernard Morris provided me with a classic example here of Queensland’s payroll project disaster. Which brings me back to this article’s title: A bereavement is necessary before project recovery can begin.

Projects fail for multiple reasons, but sometimes, not quite failing is worse.  Whilst there is hope, belief in the ‘rightness’ of the project will still be strong, whatever the evidence to the contrary.  Refusal to kill pet projects or strategies, no matter how ruinous they have become, can be deadly.  It recently cost Ed Miliband his job, and has dealt a serious blow to the future prospects of the UK Labour party.  Despite consistent polls showing that their leader was unelectable, and substantial evidence that in general elections the British vote for the Prime Minister they want rather than the party they represent, their belief in their strategy was unwavering.  Until the results came in.  The strategy failed, it was clear why it would fail well before it did, but hope and belief kept it alive.

The Queensland payroll IT system, budget A$6.19 million, ultimate cost A$1.25 billion is staggering.  I am going to be fascinated to read how this evolved as I work through the report of the official inquiry.  A glimpse into the root cause had already emerged at the time the inquiry started, as one witness observed that the Queensland state had neither an appropriate organisation, or the quality of management to execute a project of this scale.  Given that quality of governance is a good yardstick of project success, this is probably going to feature large on the outcomes of the inquiry.  I am going to be most interested in how the financial controls were set up, and how the state approved a A$1.25 billion overspend before it put the project out of its misery.

Projects in themselves are not sacrosanct, but those who believe in them often believe they are, and will see success even when it is obvious to all that it is a disaster.  The tell-tales are when missed deadlines come with requests for more cash, and threats of disaster if it isn’t forthcoming.  The next time this happens in a project near you, it is time to call the Lord-High Executioner, despatch it to wherever projects go to when they are dead, and start again.  Sure, there will be outpourings of grief, but delaying the inevitable is only going to compound the misery.

Is project recovery important to you?  Please do share your experience in the comments section so all readers can benefit from your knowledge.

If you want to learn more about the Cosmapec approach to supply chain development, visit us at or contact us

About :  Rob Ward has extensive global experience working in supply chain organisations.  He co-founded Cosmapec to help companies and executive teams establish, develop and optimise their supply chains.

One thought on “Project Recovery: First, Make Sure It’s Dead

  1. Pingback: Dealing With Distress: Project Recovery. | implementation matters

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