project recovery


The concept of Project Recovery is usually associated with the failure to set up the project properly in the first place.

In a project that subsequently requires a review, initial progress often seems to be acceptable, but then difficulties begin to emerge that cast serious doubts on the likely success of the project.

Typical symptoms include:

  • slippage against plans
  • the need for rework
  • rejected work at QC/QA reviews
  • disputes over procedural or status issues.

A project review can also be initiated when:

  • a new Project Manager is assigned to the project mid-stream
  • a major change to functionality requirements due to business changes
  • significant shifts in company organisation that impacts the end-user environment
  • for re-assurance that a crucial system is progressing properly.

The objectives for any review, for whatever reason it is initiated can be described as:

“To establish the current situation and the extent of any problems and to clearly identify what needs to be done in order to get the project back onto a sound basis”.

The Approach

The actual approach to a review and subsequent recovery can be broken down into 4 steps:

  • stopping the project
  • overview review
  • detailed review
  • recovery actions.

Step One - is often the hardest, to stop the project!  If a project is slipping behind target, the last thing the sponsor wishes to hear is that no progress is to occur.  However for a realistic assessment to take place, a stationery target is essential.

Step Two - The reviewer would seek evidence that Project Initiation tasks have been properly set up and are being used appropriately.

Key areas to look for are:

  • Project Initiation
  • Project Governance
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Risk & Issue Management
  • Project Planning and Control
  • Project Documentation

This, in effect, is looking for the existence of a proper Project Management System.  If any glaring omissions exist at this level it is a fair bet that the project is likely to be in difficulty.

The aim here is to identify first pass weaknesses or shortcomings, and thereby identify the areas for further investigation.

Step Three - Picking up the areas identified in step two, each one is examined in turn to focus on:

  • the extent to which they are used and addressed
  • how they are handled
  • the relative strengths and weaknesses
  • associated risks

The greatest danger at this level is to fall into the trap of reviewing the analysis and/or design.  It is vital to maintain the focus of the review at the Project Management level.

Step Four - Once the review has been completed and documented, the first step is to establish agreement:

  • that the findings are themselves valid
  • which areas must be addressed before the project can be continued.

The sponsor is likely to have a key role here as not every finding, and associated risks, automatically has to be addressed.  There may of course be some iterations between agreement and the next steps, the forward planning of the recovery.  The effort and/or cost involved may impact a critical timeframe and the user may decide to live with certain risks.

Whilst that must always be the users prerogative, beware the danger of a ‘whitewash’ such that no real recovery actions are undertaken.

Once agreement is reached, the revised plans can be implemented, together with on-going monitoring.

Finally, the Project Manager needs to ensure that the impacts of the review are fully communicated to all parties (e.g. agreed changes to scope, budgets, timescales etc) and that steps are taken within the development function to avoid similar occurrences to future projects.


Courage is required to be involved in a project that is to be reviewed, and the temptation can easily exist, especially if the project is yours, to postpone or avoid invoking a project review.

However, experience shows that, particularly for projects showing symptoms of being in difficulty, the earlier a review is undertaken the better for the long-term health and success of the project.  Making the review independent of the project team is all the more important so why not talk to Changescape about projects you would like us to review and help recover.