Once you have decided that a project needs to slow down, pause, or stop, there are various activities to carry out. Some activities apply in all cases, but some only apply to the specific decision that you have made. Let’s start with those that apply to everything:

  • Decision validation. All decision makers with any responsibility for the project need to be both consulted and, ideally, in agreement with the decision. It is always worth a double-check.
  • Next step clarity. As you start to communicate to both decision makers and the wider audience there will be questions and challenges about the decision. Prepare for these as much as possible in advance. Be clear on the rationale for the decision and the specific steps that you will take to slow down, pause, or stop the project. Understand any dependencies and expect to be asked what the impact on the organisation, individuals, external businesses, or suppliers will be.
  • Communication. Every organisation is different but a logical order is normally to tell the project team and the governance committees first (Steering Committee, Programme Board, etc.), followed by any impacted staff and business areas, followed by suppliers or external businesses that are dependent upon you. Communication should be quick so that, ideally, everyone who needs to know finds out on the same day. Don’t forget to communicate the reasons for the decision and next steps, as well as the decision itself.
  • Sensitivity. Individuals may feel a sense of disappointment or loss if a project is paused or stops, whether they are staff members, contractors, or suppliers. For some, this may also be a loss of role or a loss of income. Bear this in mind when communicating the news.

Then there are the activities that are dependent on the decision that you have taken.

Slowing Down

“Slowing down” in this context is where a project has to continue but needs to accommodate a reduction in funding and/or resources. If the project needs to slow down quickly it is unlikely that it will be possible to do a detailed analysis and full re-planning. The project manager and project team need to make some quick assessments focused on resource productivity, deadline criticality, scope, and quality.

Slowing down may not mean delaying deliverables. Ask first whether it is possible to achieve the same short-medium term outputs with fewer resources, allowing the project to continue with the same scope, deadlines, and quality. If that is not possible, the 3 levers in the project management armoury are:

  1. Deadlines – extend the project to smooth the workload
  2. Scope – reduce the scope to focus resource/funding on key areas
  3. Quality – don’t “gold-plate” deliverables when minimum viable product would be sufficient

Deadline extension is often the simplest solution. If deadlines cannot be extended, then decrease the scope; if the scope cannot be decreased, then focus on minimum viable product. If discrete scope items – or even discrete workstreams – are removed this helps reduces the need for detailed re-planning. However, any changes agreed will require a revision of the project documentation on resources, timelines, and scope. This must all be done with internal and external project dependencies in mind.

Pausing or Stopping a Project

A “paused” project will restart in the short to medium term; a “stopped” project will not restart. When you pause or stop a project carry out the following steps:

  • Record the decision formally with the appropriate governance bodies
  • Pay any final invoices, cancel purchase orders, etc.
  • Bring all documentation up to date, particularly the project plan, status reports, RAID logs, RACI matrix, and contact details of project team members (including external suppliers)
  • Collate all documents – including relevant emails, which can be specific to an individual – in a single, common location that is accessible to all relevant parties and ensure that the location is widely known
  • Perform a “lessons learned” analysis, if time allows, to feed in to your project or governance framework

Some of these actions may seem irrelevant for a project that is being stopped, but it is often the case that projects resurface in a different guise and it can be useful to have historic project information available.

In addition, for a paused project:

  • Create a “start up log” that identifies the initial actions that will need to be undertaken to get the project re-started
  • Diarise a fortnightly/monthly reminder to check project status in preparation for the restart

Our next article focuses on speedy restart and we will expand further on the “start up log” and contents.