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.

Learnings from the Coalface of Project Management: Part 5. A PM’s Progress.

In Part 4, we looked at why you are communicating progress. This week, let’s look at how. Project Managers (PM’s) are responsible for workstreams that deliver results to the stakeholders: Three groups of people that need to be aligned for projects to be successful. Communication is the key to keeping them aligned.

Projects begin for a variety of reasons, but in the supply chain world they are usually about creating value, and turning that value into profits.  So the first priority in communicating is are we on track to deliver those profits, by successfully executing the plan, on time, and on budget. Before we look at how we do this, here are some rules-of–thumb about communications.

  • Pictures work best. Photos say more than you can ever describe.
  • Diagrams are better than words, but only if you can see instantly what they mean to convey.
  • Progress reports are for both review at the meeting, and for later reading. Call out what you want to discuss by making the text bold, or put in a separate text box.
  • Numbers in excel work-sheets communicate more to the person who compiled them than anyone else. Avoid them as much possible.

So now let’s look at how. When preparing your progress reports, remember your team-members are busy with their tasks: The workstream mangers are monitoring schedule, spend and addressing issues: The executives are running the current business. Long, time-consuming reports and updates don’t get read and if they do, bog down the reader in the detail. Try and keep the messages short and to the point. If a problem is significant prepare a summary and options for resolution as a separate report. Keep it focused on the items that are critical:

Here is one template that I like to use: This one is heavy on text, as preferred by the client at the time. I also have a variety of charts that can be dropped into this format, depending on the type of project.


Each element on this slide can also be expanded out on subsequent slides if further explanation is required.

For quantities tracking, Excel bar charts can easily be formatted to drop into the report. If schedule is highly important, add in a Gantt chart in PowerPoint format that communicates well the stages of the project, progress and the key milestones.

Project reports such as these have the major benefit that you can explain progress quickly and succinctly whilst highlighting the key decision points. They have been developed over several years of project management work. Our experience is that the team-members adopt them because they save them time, and sponsors like them because they get to the point, quickly. Using presentations in a common format also eases understanding across multiple workstreams. When progress reporting is standardised and straightforward the Project Manger gets a double win, happy team members, and happy (as far as that ever gets) sponsors.

Contact me by email if you would like some sample slides in PowerPoint format


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.

Learnings from the Coalface of Project Management. Part 4: Communication Matters.

Architect and foreman construction discussion on location site

This post is a follow-on to Parts 1-3 which can be read in summary here

Project management is a crucial part of the organisational skills required in most companies. It used to be regarded by many as an intrinsic ability, and not a learned skill. There are some characteristics that are necessary for a project manager, such as thinking clearly under pressure, that are probably innate. Practice however can develop skills such as these, and experienced Project Managers (PM) are almost preternaturally calm, even in the midst of chaos. Another essential skill is an ability to communicate well, and this can undoubtedly be learned

Engineers lead many projects, and anyone who works with them knows, they chose their profession because they like working with things rather than interacting with people. But with the right processes and procedures in place, good communication (even by engineers) is still possible. Most project communications are about what the project team has accomplished, the problems it has overcome, and what will happen next. Which is why they are mostly uninteresting to the intended audience, people don’t attend the review meetings, and project governance suffers as a result. Governance is about getting the important information to the project sponsors, so that the best decisions get made. So make your communications about decisions.

Sponsors are the people with a dog in the fight, and that dog is called reputation. On big projects they have made promises to the leaders and owners of the organisation, and now they are depending on the PM to deliver them. And as every good PM knows, mostly the expectations have been oversold, and reality was on suspension when the promises were being made. Reality, however cannot remain suspended indefinitely, and so PM’s need to make sure their sponsor knows when this is about to happen, what the available options are, how much they will cost, how long to implement and the likelihood of success. A few plausible reasons to explain the issue that the sponsor can use are also helpful.

In projects, it’s essential to delegate decision-making, (mostly downwards to ensure progress is made) but the ones that may lead to delay, cost overruns or most important of all, reputation damage to the sponsor, need to be delegated upwards. Successful PM’s keep their sponsor looking good, even if the situation is not. Sponsors, like all leaders, have power and influence, and hang on to it like barnacles; The experienced PM makes sure to provide no tools for others to prise the sponsor off the rock. The biggest PM’s sin is dropping surprises into review meetings. Sponsors need to know if there are serious issues before the review meeting, and have time to weigh the options before the meeting itself. The progress review meeting is the PM’s best opportunity to keep the sponsor feeling good. It is here where successfully dealing with failures can turn them into triumphs.

So review meetings are important. At the start of the project, work with the sponsor to ensure the steering committee is clear that review meeting non-attendance could be a career-ending event without prior sponsor approval. Don’t take on a project where this isn’t a rule. Keep the meeting focused and structured with sections on schedule, progress, cost and scope. Use charts and diagrams widely, words sparingly and photos generously. Leave the review team to read the progress reports at their leisure and focus on the decisions. Above all, don’t hide anything from sponsors that will ultimately be a bigger issue if it is not confronted immediately.


If you want to learn more about the Cosmapec approach to supply chain development and project management, 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.

Supply Chain News: Major New Client Signs With Cosmapec!

This blog has been quiet for the last couple of weeks, but for a very good reason.  In February, Cosmapec signed a contract with a Philippines based company to develop programme management controls for a food processing plant construction project.  This is the biggest single project Cosmapec has undertaken to date, and will require my involvement on a full-time basis until mid-May.  It is an exciting project, in a fast-developing sector within the food industry.  We are very pleased to have been selected to take this important role in assisting the company achieve some challenging objectives to significantly expand their manufacturing capabilities.

The assignment is squarely in line with Cosmapec’s core customer proposition:  To quote from our website:

“Offering retailers, marketers and manufacturers a reliable, high quality alternative to in-house resources for sourcing, supply chain and manufacturing process development in Asia Pacific and developing markets.

Providing high levels of practical experience, know-how, contacts and confidentiality.”

Initial work is now underway, and the tight project timelines have generated a busy work and travel schedule which makes blogging challenging in the short term. Which is a great problem to have!

At the current point in the project, we are defining project controls and governance, which I blogged about in 2014, and is worth re-visiting again: Here is the opening paragraph:

“Your project scope is clear, the work is planned, and the resources are in place.  You have made a good start to the journey, but how will you navigate the long road ahead?  In many ways the answer is to plan for failure, or more specifically how to avoid it, and governance is the key activity.  What is governance, who does it, and who benefits from it?  Simply put, governance is how the project owner gets the information needed in order to keep the project moving towards a successful outcome.  Large projects typically impact across many operational areas, and as such a separate organisation structure is required to ensure work is completed as planned, and information flows to the key decision makers and the project owner, commonly referred to now as the sponsor.  Often overlooked is how to deal with the many issues that can lead to project failure. Which is where the project sponsor earns his or her money.”

This was one of the most popular early posts, please do go and check it out if you haven’t had the chance to read it before.

Thanks for your patience and understanding whilst blogging is a little less frequent, normal service will be resumed soon!


Are you working on project governance?  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.

Managing Supply Chain Risk – Find the Weakest Links

Triple-A Supply Chains are agile, adaptable and aligned, as we discussed last week, and that makes them less vulnerable to risks.  Triple-A describes what they have become, and not so much how to get there, so let’s look at what you can do to become adept at dealing with an uncertain world.  Risk management is a key part of supply chain strategy, and agility and adaptability are the outputs of the planning and preparation process to manage the disruptions that you may encounter.  So how do you measure up to your risks?

The first place to start is to identify the risks you may face:  Take a look at the Supply Chain Council SCOR Model for classifying risks:

Supply Chain Risk Model

Source: Managing Risk in the Organization Using the SCOR Methodology, Supply Chain Council (2008)


If you are not worried by now, maybe you should be.  The key to reducing your worry is planning and preparation.  Here is an 8-point plan to help bring you some peace of mind.

Step 1:  Analyse your Supplier and Materials Base.  Commodity materials available from multiple suppliers are the least risky end of the spectrum.  Specialty materials with only one supplier are at the opposite most vulnerable end.

Step 2:  Review your Manufacturing Base:  Who manufactures your end-product for you, and where.  Again, single-sources are going to be of high concern.

Step 3:  Identify your Logistics Providers:  Look for the points where you move products and materials critical to success through single providers.

Step 4:  Prioritise the Likely Risks:  For each area above, determine the likelihood of it occurring and assess the vulnerability if the anticipated risk materialises.  Highly likely and highly vulnerable will be what you are looking to identify.

Step 5:  Quantify the Impact:  It is preferable to have a $ sign in front of these.  Think in terms of inventory losses, lost output value, lost customer sales.

Step 6:  Develop the Contingency Plan:  Alternatively known as business continuity planning, this details what you are going to do now, and what you are going to do in the event the risk materializes.  Both will have costs associated with them and you need to be able to explain these because your next step is:

Step 7:  Prepare the Cost/Benefit Analysis:  Effectively this is calculating the cost of insuring your customers against your supply chain risks.  Insuring against everything is going to be too costly, leaving too much unplanned for is too risky.  This is the point you have to use your best judgement, and going forward learn from experience.  The collective knowledge of the organisation is an important resource to help you make these calls.

Step 8:  Implement the Measures:  Diversify the supplier base, use multiple logistics providers, have alternative manufacturing locations.  If this isn’t possible, collaborate with the suppliers to produce their own business continuity plans.  Test everyones capabilities, and if you have an in-house action plan developed, train everyone to use it and practice it regularly.

It looks deceptively simple, but there is a lot of work required here.  It touches on every process and functional area within your organisation.  Although the plans are essential, having associates that are prepared is even more important.   The most dangerous risks are those that are unforeseen, and employees who can recognise and react to disruptions are the key to being agile and adaptable.


Are you responsible for developing risk management plans?  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.



Supply Chain Process Optimisation – Part 4.2 Governance Information and Communication

Structure and people, the first two sides of the governance triangle are organised to facilitate the sharing of information, the feedstock of the decision making process.  Information without context and at the wrong time is not particularly useful.  Formal reports and review meetings are the proven processes for structuring the information exchange.  The reports the governance committees review should concisely convey the detail for them to discharge their responsibilities, as and when they need to.  Reports are not the only communication process you will need, but they form the official record of events and ensure that all project team members are aware of the important information on a timely basis.  What should your information and communication system look like?

The over-riding principal is that it should be hierarchical. Each level of reporting should summarise into the information required at the next level.  This minimizes administration, and allows for clear tracking and audit of progress and events that are driving results.

When the information is communicated is important.  At the steering committee level, review meetings need to be tied into the formal business processes that set and control the execution of the business cycle.  Most businesses plan annually and review quarterly, so this is probably the schedule you want for a major optimisation initiative.  What you are sharing should be the impact on the operational key performance indicators (KPI’s).   Customer service, cost per order or per piece, overhead cost, quality performance and customer satisfaction are likely to be the supply chain KPI’s that are of most significance.  These may not be what you are directly measuring at a process level, but the process outputs need to be contributing to improvements that can be measureable in the key drivers of business success.  This type of reporting is not routinely captured in supply chain, and you will need finance help in putting this together (You do have Supply Chain Finance on your core team, don’t you?).  As a guide, try to get the summary information onto two powerpoint slides that can be incorporated into a quarterly business update, and can be assimilated by the reader in a maximum of five minutes.  You will need to have all the latest workstream summaries and plan updates in the appendices, but they are included for further explanation of how you got there and where you will be going next.  Our experience suggests scheduling in one or more pre-meetings between the sponsor and the optimisation team leader before steering committee meetings, to ensure the information presented is consistent with business results.

At the next level, and assuming you have a multiple workstream structure, is the core team meeting.  As a guide monthly should be the minimum level of review: Bi-monthly is probably about average, but weekly may be necessary, especially if there are many dependencies between workstreams.  The workstreams should aim to summarise progress onto a single powerpoint slide.  You will need the process level results detailing how this was achieved, and the plans for what happens next, but keep these as supporting documents rather than for review.

Finally, perhaps the most time-consuming, but absolutely critical for implementation are the workstream meetings.  These are reviewing the value-adding work that is being done.  The daily output reports, labour usage, material movements, re-work, quality performance, process control sheets, labour and equipment productivity measures, customer complaints, customer returns, purchase variations, supplier performance measures.  It is where the Process Optimisation rubber meets the road. If you cannot measure and report the improvements you plan to make, there are several dangers.  Firstly, no-one knows where the improved performance comes from.  As the old saying goes, success has many fathers: If the improvement you made goes into gross margin, Marketing will be proclaiming paternity before it takes its first breath.   Secondly, if the improvements don’t get communicated and acted upon, savings get spent, quality and specification improvements are not used for marketing advantage and improved output is translated into higher inventory.  Thirdly, senior management may believe the programme has lost traction and choke off resources to it.

This is the final part in the series on governance. Cosmapec has a wealth of experience in designing process optimisation programmes, governance structures and implementing the initiatives. If you want to learn more about the Cosmapec approach, visit us at or contact us

Supply Chain Process Optimisation – Part 4.1 People in Governance

Getting the right people into your process optimisation team is just as important as having a well-defined structure.  In the world of process optimisation, very few people can work full-time on the programme, especially in smaller organisations.  In this respect, the initiative will be competing directly with the resources required to keep the existing business processes operating.  Organisations tend to overload their star performers, those with the track record for getting things done.  These are probably the people you will first think of when you start putting together your team.  Alternatively, it may be time to dust-off your succession plans and start handing  roles to those who will be your next generation of top talent.

The Steering Committee is usually filled with the leaders or deputies of the functional areas or business units involved.  The time demands on them individually are relatively low, and in a well set-up programme, they will all have a stake in making a success from the project, usually through inclusion of the key deliverables into their functional objectives.

The next level, the core Process Optimisation Team is where the friction begins to mount, and where the learning opportunities lie.  The most important role here is the core Team Leader.   This will usually be a mid-level manager operating a functional area or business unit and will likely have a combination of stakes in the work, as both team leader and as an end-user.  The key attributes you want in your Team Leader are integrity and a reputation for generating trust across functional boundaries.  The Team Leader is primarily responsible for creating the programme, monitoring implementation, communication and co-ordination.  Technical skills are not necessarily essential, but a good working knowledge of the existing processes is usually required.  In smaller projects, the Process Optimisation Team members may report directly to the Team Leader, but usually it is structured with Workstream Leaders that plan and implement the effort on separate parts of the process.  Junior managers, supervisors and specialists typically head-up the workstreams and direct the day to day work.  To get the core team and workstreams to operate effectively will require freeing up enough of their time to do the analysis, design, planning and implementation required for the process improvements that will be made.  Quality Asssurance, Engineering and HR may advise at a core team level or be part of the workstreams depending on the process elements to be optimised. When selecting the team members to do the work, you will want to have a combination of functional skills, knowledge, experience and enthusiasm.  To support the Team Leader and Workstream Leaders a Project Administrator is invaluable to help the team members stay coordinated and to report progress effectively.   You may also need specialist knowledge, skills and tools if there are specific areas or aspects of the process that need optimising. E.g. Lean for waste reduction, 6-sigma for process control improvements, control engineers for automation or material flow specialists for layout changes.

Process optimisation efforts offer enormous training opportunities for your next generation of leaders. Use this opportunity by freeing up time from the day to day responsibilities of your future stars and give them a leadership role in developing the future.  This has another significant benefit: It will directly address a major risk, entrenched views and attitudes driving resistance to change.

When designing and selecting the team, and communicating to them roles and responsibilities, it is important that team players can see a personal or group benefit from the process.  This should primarily be in the form of experience and skills, rather than immediate monetary incentives.  And be very aware that the trust required to do the work is endangered itself by the optimisation process, so you will need to recognise and address concerns.  A lack of trust in the outcome of the change process is common, normal, and the concerns that drive it are genuine.  Designing your governance to address this is essential and getting the right mix of people in the governance structure is a pre-requisite for success.


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