Dealing With Distress: Project Recovery.

Injured businessman working at his desk

The pearls of wisdom dispensed in this blog last year, neglected one key aspect of project recovery: Acknowledging that a project has failed, or is dying and needs to be swiftly dispatched, is emotionally similar to a bereavement. Shock, denial, and anger are written across the faces of everyone involved, depression is looming and getting to acceptance looks a dim and distant prospect. So how do you deal with this?

Project leaders are not immune from grief, but they will be the people everyone looks to when the wreckage of the old plan finally burns to the ground and the survivors are hunting around for a new direction.   Time is still of the essence but at this point an honest and blame-free appraisal of the situation is the first priority. Laying bare the full horrors of the failure is an essential part of getting ready to start moving forward again. Yes, it is painful, and yes, as a project leader it will hold a mirror up to you, but it must be done.

The effect on the team is going to be considerable. Most of them will have been striving desperately to keep the project moving forward, in the face of insurmountable difficulties, and many will experience a great sense of failure and defeat. Recognising their heroics, and bringing them back up to speed is a key activity, and like substitutions in football, adding in some fresh legs to support them will give them a new lease of life. Projects fail for multiple reasons, but it is people who have to fix it, and the leaders needs to be playing with full-strength teams.

The project leader also needs to recognise which areas need further leadership support to get it moving forward again. The project organisation is part of the failure, and overhauling it will undoubtedly be necessary. Identifying why the organisation failed is another significant part of the recovery process, and essential to fixing it. Again, this is painful, but necessary. And never be too proud to ask for more leadership support: Recovering projects often requires specialist skills and experience, and dividing and specialising the leadership tasks is a proven way to manage this.

Finally, when standing in the smouldering ruins of a failed plan, hunt around in the ashes for your enthusiasm. You and others may have been over-using it, but you are going to need it to start the recovery process, and your team cannot get behind you until you do. Dust it off and shine it up: Put your recovery plan into action, and get moving again.

Please do share your thoughts on recovery plans in the comments.

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.

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