Sacrificing a project or task when you realize that it is not developing properly can lead to giving more explanations than you would like, or managing the frustrations of the team. However, taking the necessary steps will allow you to rescue the project, save the final result, or even the company!

If both financial and human resources are assigned to a particular task it is because the expected results are worth it. Devoting efforts and resources to a fruitless task involves a twofold cost: firstly the wastage of these resources in a task that will not bring the desired result. On the other, it means less resources for other tasks or projects that could be better developed if they had the required resources.

Therefore, deciding to rescue a lost project or to abandon it within good time are difficult but essential decisions for a well-run company.

How to recover a seemingly lost project? In this article we answer this question.

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Recognizing errors

The first step, though it may be obvious, is the most important. When a project goes wrong, the first thing is to acknowledge it.

In many cases, a way to know if the project can present problems during its implementation is to have completed the proper planning of risks and how to identify them. Identifying these risks, will allow you to take effective measures to rescue the project.

Additionally, before the implementation of the project there must be a series of planned milestones, which allow you to know if the end result will satisfy the established customer expectations. Of course, a task will require monitoring to ensure that goals are being achieved and deviations are forecasted in time. Do not forget to communicate with your client what your estimates are, either through regular reporting procedures or when there is a significant change.

The recognition of an error can serve as a starting point for analysis, both at the company or individually, in search of the aspects that can be improved.

Also, there is no single answer to the temporal dimension: if the risk is imminent, it may be important to launch the analysis during project implementation even if this may slow down the work. In other cases, the best phase for analysis is a post-mortem analysis.

If you want to know more, we recommend reading this article: How do I know if my project is on track?

If there are no other solutions, abandon the project 

Once you have identified that the project is likely to fail, the next step is to consider whether it makes sense to continue with it. As mentioned above, an active project inevitably consumes resources. It would be appropriate to consider whether it makes sense to continue to devote these resources to a project that you know will not get the desired results or if it is better to cancel the project and devote those means to other more viable projects.

The opportunity cost of keeping a failing project is the loss of resources which other projects could use in order to achieve the expected results.

A defeat on time can be a final victory. Therefore, identifying the risks and probabilities of failure of a project are essential to ensure the ultimate success of a global project or a company.

Seeking external support 

Sometimes it is difficult for oneself to find ones’ own mistakes. Whether it be pride or self-indulgence, we tend to think that what we have done is right, and overlook certain things.

An example is computer programmers. In most companies, when developing software programs, they are not tested on the same computer that they have been created. This is because they have observed that the review is more comprehensive and objective when performed by an external evaluator.

Self-evaluation tends to be more benevolent and more easily satisfied.

In addition, an outside observer, especially an experienced one, can make for a valuable and objective opinion.

It is possible that, entertained with superficial problems, we may be ignoring other deeper and more fundamental problems within the project. These are the essential problems that should focus all of our attention.

Pursue small victories 

Although completing an entire project can seem overwhelming and complex, often it is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get excellent results. A small victory every day can culminate in a final success.

What are those little victories? One of the secrets for daily excellence is quite simple: it is to meet each day with the corresponding tasks in the most appropriate manner, with the greatest effort and dedication. This daily combination of efficiency and effectiveness is the key to long term success.

Good engineers mastered this art: the face of such overwhelming projects as a bridge, an aircraft carrier or a new software, the secret is to analyze the ultimate goal, break it down into the smallest components as possible and organize work around those parts.

Instead of an incomprehensible goal lasting a few months, both the project leader and team members can focus on the day-to-day tasks at hand. The challenge of motivating the team can be attributed to the concentration of daily work, reducing the concentration of daily work therefore eliminates the anxiety about the complexity of the project and provides productivity-focused components.

Using more resources is not (always) the best answer 

Try to think of the attention and motivation as the psychological capital of the company. This has helped me to realize one important rule: to manage resources, the most important thing is not how much I have and can mobilize, but how to distribute and control them.

I do not want my employees to be distracted in trying to understand the whole project cycle and trying to juggle what they are developing as well as what the responsibilities of another unit are. I want them to focus on their own tasks, maximize their energy and motivation and achieve maximum productivity.

When transferred to financial, material or human resources, the standard is still true: the most important thing is not how many resources are used, but how they are distributed. Companies that achieve greater success are not those with more means and less input. Google started in a garage.

Resources are not the difference between a successful company and one that fails. The key is in how those resources, and projects that leverage them, are managed. If you want to stay competitive, ITM platform offers a simple management solution that allows you to make appropriate use of resources and bring your projects and your company success.


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Juan Delgado Moraleda

Blogger ITM Platform

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"The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate."

Thomas J. Watson Sr., Founder of IBM

While this quote is by no means dogma, nor a desirable way to obtain success, a plethora of companies have had to experience, and learn from, great failures. Finding and scrutinizing reasons for failure is a crucial part of the project management cycle. Here are three examples of the most disastrous project failures in history:


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Fail 1- Denver International Airport's Automated Baggage System

Who failed?

Denver International Airport (DIA), the largest airport in the United States by total land area, and the 6th busiest by passenger traffic.

What were they trying to achieve?

In 1991, DIA attempted to remodel and upgrade the arduous, time-consuming luggage check-in and transfer system. The idea involved bar-coded tags being fixed to each piece of luggage that went through 'Destination Coded Vehicles'. This would fully automate all baggage transfers, integrate all three terminals, and reduce aircraft turn-around time significantly.

Why did they fail?

We know that the five key variables all project managers have to deal with are scope, time, cost, quality, and risk. If each of these had a check box next to them, DIA would have a big, fat, red cross in every single one.

When DIA contracted BAE Systems to develop the automated baggage handling system, they completely ignored BAE's projected timelines, instead stubbornly sticking to their unrealistic 2-year schedule. The project was underscoped, and management took on unnecessary amounts of risk. Perhaps the most detrimental decision was to not include the airlines in the planning discussions. By omitting these key stakeholders, features catering to oversized luggage, sport/ski equipment racks, and separate maintenance tracks were not designed appropriately or at all.

Large portions of 'completed' works had to be redone, the airport opening was delayed by 16 months, and losses of approximately $2 billion were incurred. The entire project was scrapped in 2005.

Fail 2- The NHS' Civilian IT Project

Who Failed?
The National Health Service (NHS), England's publicly funded healthcare system, the largest and oldest in the world.

What were they trying to achieve?
The project aimed to revolutionise the way technology is used in the health sector by paving the way for electronic records, digital scanning and integrated IT systems across hospitals and community care. It would have been the largest civilian computer system in the world.

Why did they fail?

If you were to pinpoint the project's major downfall, you would need a lot of pins. Contractual wrangling plagued the NHS from the outset, with changing specifications, supplier disputes and technical problems pervasive throughout the project's doomed existence.

Unrealistic expectations of both timelines and costs were not helped by inadequate preliminary research, failure to conduct progress reviews, and a clear lack of leadership. The project has been referred to as the 'biggest IT failure ever seen' and 'a scandalous waste of taxpayers money'. Estimates of the damage inflicted upon British citizens fluctuate, currently hovering precariously around the £10billion mark.

While the benefit of hindsight elucidates how the politically motivated nature of the top-down project was never going to suit the localized needs of the NHS divisions, it is yet to be seen whether the ambitious project will ever be re-attempted.

Fail 3- IBM's Stretch Project

Who Failed?
International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), the multinational technology and consulting corporation that consistently lies in the upper echelons of global brand ranking lists.

What were they trying to achieve?

In the late 1950s IBM set out to design and build the world's fastest and most technically advanced computer, the IBM 7030 Stretch supercomputer. The computer would be 100 to 200 times the speed and performance level of its nearest competitor, thus 'stretching' the existing limits of computer design. This ambitious and impressive target resulted in its price being set at $13.5 million.

Why did they fail?

The project leader, Stephen W. Dunwell, later recalled that what made the project so complicated was that "many more things than ever before had to go on simultaneously in one computer." Engineers faced a conglomerate of challenges in designing and manufacturing many elements of the ground-breaking system; a load-sharing switch which would allow the use of transistors to drive the ferrite-core memory was amongst these problems.

The overly optimistic forecasts meant that project timelines and costs were severely overrun. Additionally, when the first working version of the Stretch was tested in the early 1960s, it was only 30 times faster than its predecessor. This was seen as a dismal failure, and the price of the systems that had already been ordered were cut to $7.78 million, below cost price.

There was a silver lining, however. The manufacturing, packaging, and architectural innovations Stretch had fostered were the cornerstone to many of IBM's future developments, and helped catapult them to the forefront of the industry. If such lofty expectations had not been set at the time, perhaps the project could have been a success. Alas, Stretch is resigned to the history books as being part of 'project management failure' lists such as this.

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