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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.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a position where, for reasons outside of our control, there are not sufficient resources or finances to support a project or projects. This can be for a variety of reasons including cost restriction, resource availability, or changes in prioritisation. In this situation, decisions have to be made about the continuing viability of the project(s) in the short, medium, and long term. The decisions should take in to account the impact on the organisation as a whole, clients, staff, and external partners.

There are normally 4 options:

  • Continue with the project at the current speed if resources and/or funding can be found
  • Slow down the project by reducing resources and/or available funding
  • Pause the project completely for an agreed period before restarting it in future
  • Stop the project completely

To make these decisions quickly we use a 2-stage approach:

  1. Assess each project against a set of simple criteria and, where there are multiple projects, use a scoring mechanism to help with prioritisation (there is a list of criteria at the bottom of this article which, while not exhaustive, should be helpful)
  2. Once projects are prioritised, assess their ongoing viability and benefits against available resources and funding

As part of this consider whether it is possible to combine projects, share resources, reduce deliverables, or extend milestones. The end product should be a list of projects that are split into those that need to continue, those that can slow down or pause, and those that can stop. There may be grey areas so 2-3 iterations through the assessment is sometimes required. And do not be afraid to stop projects completely. Sometimes projects are only viable for a certain period and a previously strong business case may not survive a long delay. Difficult though the decision might be, particularly if significant investment has already been made (the “sunk cost fallacy”), sometimes stopping a project is the most beneficial thing that an organisation can do.

Working out which category your project should be in is the first step. Our next article will cover how to slow down, pause, or stop safely – with examples.

Assessment Criteria

  1. Is there a regulatory deadline or requirement that must be met?
  2. Is this project required to keep the business operating (e.g. replacement of a failing system, operational restructure)?
  3. Does this project provide any competitive advantage in the short, medium or long term?
  4. Does the project impact clients?
  5. Does the project impact staff or external partners?
  6. Is this project still viable if there is a delay or pause?
  7. Will the project cost be significantly increased if there is a delay or pause?
  8. Can there be a reduction or change in the scope of the project?
  9. Is there a risk of financial loss to the organisation?
  10. Is there the potential for reputational impact?

A year ago we published an article introducing DELTA AI, Projecting’s sister company focused on AI. Since then, the DELTA team have been busy talking to potential clients about AI. In Projecting Group we like to use initial client meetings to understand their needs (as we discussed in a recent DELTA AI article). However, clients often want us to lead with relevant use cases, as a good way to spark the conversation. There are many interesting use cases in the market, but most consultancies don’t go beyond the well-known offerings of the big well-funded players. One of DELTA AI’s strengths is that we have taken the time to investigate and understand the offerings of lesser known / earlier stage companies. This is where much of the innovation is taking place, as 89% of the AI ecosystem in the U.K. consists of startups with 50 or fewer employees (according to this Forbes article).

We see 3 main ways AI can help companies:

What is AI?

(See also this video from an event earlier in the year. It is in Spanish, but if you turn on the automatic English subtitles you will see a good example of the power of AI).

Over the last year, we’ve met many Projecting current or potential clients keen to talk about AI. This is already resulting in projects with an AI component.

A good example of this is the work we are doing with a company in the Wealth industry. The client asked Projecting to help them transform their Operating Model. In the first phase, working with a DELTA AI expert, we identified 3 main ways to apply AI to obtain quick wins. For the first opportunity, we are currently reviewing off-the-shelf tools. For the other two opportunities, we are developing business cases for building customised bots.

The DELTA AI team continue to focus on expanding knowledge and expertise in AI. We hold regular sessions across the teams to ensure the Projecting team are aware of the latest use cases identified. So, if you are interested in AI, feel free to contact anyone in the DELTA AI or Projecting teams. We’re always happy to have a chat.

We recently posted a link to a news article about the rate of IT project failures. There have been some very high profile, and some less high profile, IT project failures and outages in the past couple of years.

IT projects and programmes, large and small, are often both complex and complicated. Particularly when they involve the migration of data from existing systems to new systems. If you have worked on this type of project, then we aren’t telling you anything new.

We thought it might be useful to talk about why these projects can be difficult and how you might increase the likelihood of success.

The Challenges

The level of difficulty in these projects is driven by the:

  • Number of existing systems, the connectivity between systems, and external interfaces;
  • Functionality of the new system(s), any customisation, and the regulatory requirements;
  • Amount of data to be migrated, the structure of the data (clients, accounts, funds, stocks, etc.), and the data quality;
  • Number of system users, internal subject matter expertise, and internal project experience.

And that is only part of the delivery challenge. There will usually be an overlay of cost constraints, time constraints, and, sometimes, political constraints. It may be a multi-national project, it may span different divisions or businesses, and it can be across time zones. All of which increase the time, cost, and complexity.

Changes to any one of the things in the list above can, and will, affect everything else.

So, what can you do about it?

The core aspects of project management – governance, plans, risk logs, dependency tracking, etc. – are all important for a successful project but we would like to be more specific than that. These are our top tips based on experience:

  • Look before you leap. Everyone wants to get in to the action, but you must not skip detailed planning. We know it is laborious, uses lots of resources, and it can feel as if you are getting nowhere, but if you look at every component in detail you are much less likely to come a cropper later.
  • Mobilise properly. If you start the project with the wrong mix of skills and experience, it is difficult to recover, and you will lose both time and momentum. In your planning, make sure you understand who you need and when.
  • Map it out. Whether it is the system components, interfaces, or data migration, map it out. The more you understand about how everything is connected, the easier it will be to manage the project, keep it joined up, and assess the impact of any changes.
  • Never stop testing. It can be the easiest corner to cut, often backed by the implicit assumptions that “everything will be fine” or “we can fix it afterwards”. As recent press coverage shows, these assumptions are not necessarily correct. Test the functionality, interfaces, migrated data, systems access, volume, overnight processes, and everything else. You need to be confident.
  • Reconcile everything. It is one of the hardest things to do but it is critical. Reconcile your existing systems before your start, reconcile at every stage of the project, reconcile when you are testing migration, reconcile when you go live, reconcile across new systems and interfaces. Reconcile clients and accounts, reconcile financial amounts, reconcile static data. You need to know that everything is right.
  • Make good decisions. At each stage of the project making good decisions is key. Everyone will have worked hard to determine scope, timescales, and budgets. There may be good reason to change something but don’t do it without considering the evidence and expertise available to you. Quick decisions, sometimes forced by political pressure, almost always cause future problems.

This is a wide-ranging and multi-faceted subject to cover in a very short article. Every one of these projects have complexities and nuances that you could never conceive of at the outset but will be expected to manage when they arise, against a backdrop of time, cost and political pressure.

There is no magic solution but if you focus on detailing and mapping everything up front, making sure you test and reconcile everything as thoroughly as you can, and making open and honest decisions as you go through, you will increase your chances of success.

You can probably tell that we enjoy this stuff. If we can help, or you just want to pick our brains, feel free to get in touch.