Productivity. Performance. Success

7 Steps to Turning around from an IT Project Crisis

7-Steps-to-turning-around-an-IT-Project-Crisis

Let’s face the reality: not all software development projects are successful! Statistics about failed IT projects is just mind-blowing (I know you have read this before so I will not repeat this again). The question is what do we do when everything is about to fall apart. When your client is threatening to throw you and your team into jail (yes this has happened to me). Can the leader save the situation?

Crisis is the best time for changes. From my own experience, I know that there are tons of tricks that can be made to save a project. If you are bold enough, disciplined and ready for changes, no crisis is hopeless. Here are some ways out!

 

  1. Assess. Change.

If the project is bogged down, moving forward absent-mindedly on autopilot is the worst solution. Never be afraid to pause the project for a short while for the purpose of doing an assessment. I have seen how successful it can be; although, it’s really challenging when you have a tough and angry client pressing on you. Trust me, it will work wonders.

 

  1. Conduct an Audit

When a project hits the crisis stage, it is likely that the client is already fuming and it is common to expect accusations of non-delivery, incompetence, and the shifting of blame. An audit exercise (i.e. detailed analysis of the contract scope, requirements specification, project deliverables, financial standing etc) at this point allows you to explicitly show your client what your team has done, what is left to be done and the plan for moving forward. It brings objectivity to the situation and provides a solid basis for both parties to decide what to do in order to move on.

 

  1. Refresh Your Team!

At this stage, your team is probably weary. They could be completely stuck and close to a burnout with no hope of a solution. 2 different approaches are helpful here:

  • Fresh positive eyes! Bring in an independent team to work with your team.
  • Change the environment! Send your team to a remote location and ask them to come back with a solution. Don’t let them be disturbed. They need a calm positive environment to find the best solution.

 

  1. Don’t throw more resources into the task

There is always a temptation to throw more powers into the task to make it go faster. In fact, the solution is the opposite. Don’t be afraid to reduce the team!

A bad developer could have a very negative impact on a project. He also may be the one who discourages or moans. Showing the door is always hard, but to prevent the ship from sinking, sailors lighten the vessel by throwing lumber overboard.

 

  1. Win Back the Client’s Trust

The communication between business and IT teams must be honest. Never leave your client in the dark when something goes wrong! If he feels it smells suspicious, he will try to interfere with the process of development and force things to be done the way he believes is the best. Honestly let your client know the state of the things.

  • If you have failed and under-delivered, take responsibility.
  • Never try to redeem yourself by overpromising. You must find a win-win solution that will satisfy the client, and won’t be undoable for your team.
  • Ask yourself what’s right and wrong and do what’s right.
  • If you think the changes must come from the client’s side, say it.
  • Don’t try to manipulate the client as this will result in a backlash.

 

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

This may sound contradicting to the previous point, but the client is not always right. If you are honest with yourself, you will know when you are right. Do what’s fair. If you see that the client doesn’t honor the contract and tries to squeeze from you more than what was agreed or raises unfair claims, say it. Don’t let the client push you over.

Have the faith that if you do what is right and with the best interest of your client, things will turn out fine.

 

  1. Maintain a Positive Outlook 

Composure and a positive fighting spirit are must-haves for a leader. You must guide your guys through ups and downs till final victory.

  • Be honest with your team about harsh facts, but radiate the confidence that you will succeed in the end. Never stretch the truth because your body language and attitude will reveal the real situation anyway and sow distrust in your team.
  • If you are tired and feel hopeless, take a day off from all commitments. Do something funny or find solitude. When you are refreshed, it’s much easier to think clearly.
  • If you lose composure and panic, everyone will panic. It’s your job to take a step back to see the opportunities before the situation becomes uncontrolled.

 

Discussion 

Every crisis has the potential to breathe new life into your project if you learn how to deal with shockwaves! The worst thing a leader can do in a crisis is to hide (even when your client has the power to take your passport and throw you into jail!). The faster we admit the problem, the higher the chances that the project will survive.

 It will always take some painstaking efforts to have priorities and timelines under control. The leader must be able to see the situation clearly. Being honest and aware of the real state of things are keys to turning around from a project crisis.

“nothing can stop a man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth  can help the man with the wrong mental attitude”

-Thomas Jefferson

Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Stay confident and try the things above. It has worked wonders for me.

Please share your thoughts and experiences. What more can we do when things go wrong

 

Leave a Comment

21 Comments

  1. Anonymous Anonymous
    June 17, 2015    

    Nice article, I have a new way for my project after read it.
    Thanks :)

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      June 17, 2015    

      Thanks for the visit! I’m glad that you liked the article. /Jonas

  2. June 17, 2015    

    Nice article Jonas. For point no.3 I often experience that existing team lost their purpose or interest in the project itself.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      June 17, 2015    

      Thanks Toni. What do you think we should do when it happens? How do we motivate the team or recharge the team?

  3. June 17, 2015    

    well written articles… wish we have such articles during our IT suffering times back then :)

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      June 17, 2015    

      Nice photo Andrew! You look like a model! :-) And thanks for the nice words.

  4. Nas Nas
    June 18, 2015    

    I thought you said 6 steps, I read 7 ….

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      June 18, 2015    

      Problem with the Math! 😉 I will change that. Thanks for the feedback!

  5. Hassan Hassan
    June 19, 2015    

    I think communication is the key. Regular communication/ meetings internally and with the client too, help us know the ins and outs of project at any stage specially for Point 1, 3 and 5

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      June 19, 2015    

      Thanks Hassan! I agree.

  6. June 19, 2015    

    Interesting article, however I find the point number 6 hard to apply. If one must say no, shall be beforehand, at the beginning of the project or while “things are going well”. At the point there’s such thing as a crisis, saying no might look just as an excuse in times of trouble.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      June 19, 2015    

      Tony, good point. But sometimes the client is wrong. In those situations the communication is very important. How do you explain to the client that something is not part of the scope (or not a bug)? If you allow for uncontrolled scopecreep the client will be very unhappy in the end.

  7. Hendra Hendra
    June 21, 2015    

    Amazing article, can see from point to point, it was written by someone who has went through many crisis, make a breakthrough, learn something from it and reverse the crisis into something profitable …

    From first point I agree, it need courage to temporary pause the project, and patiently bear the pressure from angry client, no matter how long does it take for assessment, but at the end we settle everything, and project ends wonderfully.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      June 22, 2015    

      Thanks Hendra! I agree, the first point is very important. It’s not easy when then the client is angry. You have to be very confident and believe that it’s in the best interest of the client.

  8. June 22, 2015    

    Salam Jonas, good article with good points to follow. Yes the moment we got the real experience in the crisis situation, i think we can have even better knowledge to handle them.
    My real experience in turning around the problematic projects, in crisis of customer acceptance and trust and very low morale of the project team….was the real testing of your passionate, commitment, focus and the science and arts skills. The process will require you to draw and paint clearly to both project team and customer, what is the root-cause of the problem and steps for you and all to do and undertake. The ability of the leader to lead and facilitate the process and foregoing. In the end everybody will share the same problem and resolution and work as a strong team. Be it project team and customer. Managing the perception and managing the expectation, both are real.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      June 22, 2015    

      Thanks Safar! I really appreciate that you took the time to share your experiences. I agree that it’s very important to find the root-cause.

  9. Mina Mina
    June 22, 2015    

    Your emphasis on ethical values is really applaudable. Honesty, faireness and doing the right thing are hard to come by in most corporations!

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      June 22, 2015    

      Thanks Mina! I agree. Both IT suppliers and their customers need to change. I see “abuse of power” from both sides. I would like to hear more IT suppliers admit “we screwed up but we will fix it” and customers admit “this was not part of the original scope”.

  10. Haatim Haatim
    June 24, 2015    

    Insightful article. I believe this process can be adapted to be used for other situations and scenarios as well.

    It has definitely shed some light on a better practice of how to turn around a crisis situation even from a management standpoint.

    “Maintain a Positive Outlook”

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      June 27, 2015    

      Thanks Haatim! Good point! This is just a guideline.

  11. Vic Vic
    August 27, 2019    

    Informative and encouraging!

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  1. Welcome to my blog! | JONAS LIND on June 16, 2015 at 9:21 am
JONAS LIND is a co-founder of two IT companies, one in Sweden and one in Malaysia. He has been in the IT industry since 2000. He currently resides in Malaysia with his family.

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