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Restarting a stalled project

Collaboration & Team Management Inspiration & Motivation

We’ve all been there.

A project that you were really excited about deflates over time until it eventually loses momentum.

It’s not that this project was a bad idea, or that people don’t care about it. It might be simply that the team is paralyzed by uncertainty or a feeling of insecurity about the project. It might also be a general loss of interest and passion.

At other times, it might be that team dynamics have become less than ideal and the team would rather work on anything else but this project.

A stalled project can bring about the same feelings of anxiety that procrastination does. So although it might be a common phenomenon, you don’t want to keep you team at this point of uncertainty for too long. It’s bad for team morale and it can reflect poorly on your management and leadership skills.

So where do you start from when dealing with a start project? You’ll first need to take a step back and evaluate the project from a few angles. The easiest way is defining a very clear next action for the project to move forward. But sometimes this can be just a surface solution for an issue that lies much deeper. You can’t move forward if you’re not sure of:

  • what the purpose of the project is
  • what the project should look like when it is completed
  • how to buy-in your team and have everyone on board

When your project is stuck in a rut like this, try some of these deep dive strategies to get it going again:

Define why the project is aligned with your team goals

Find the reason why the stuck project matters to your team and company goals. This can often be your first step when you try and pump life back into your project.

Ask yourself: how would this project move the team forward? Would finishing it mean we’re closer to accomplishing a greater objective?

Be honest. If you’re not finding a way to tie your project into the overall company objective, then don’t try to force it in. You’re probably better off parking it on your Later list.

Define what ‘done’ looks like

This might be the hardest step because projects tend to get stuck when ‘done’ becomes ambiguous. ‘Done’ might also mean different things to different team members. Someone’s ‘done’ point might be someone else’s start point. As the team leader, it’s your job to bring in a common definition and paint the big picture for your team.

Collaborating with your team members to envision the finished state of the project will help energize and rally people around your objectives.

One of the best ways to define what ‘done’ looks like is to see what the project looks like beyond the end date. Live in the future for a bit and imagine the finished state of your project. What does it look like? What are some things that the company benefits from as a result of finishing this project?

This might be the clarification you and your team members need to see the project ‘done’.

Clear the roadblocks

To get the wheels back in motion, look and see if there are any clear, specific roadblocks that are preventing a project from moving forward.

Common roadblocks include lack of:

  • budget
  • resources (time, development hours)
  • team buy-in

It’s no surprise that getting others involved is a great way to break through roadblocks. Leveraging your team when you need solutions is a great way to eliminate project hurdles.

But you need to realistically assess the situation. If the resources simply aren’t there for this project to be seen through, it might be that you need to reassess the importance of the project and whether its completion will pay off enough to explain the scarce resources you’re sacrificing for it. 

Communicate the project restart back to your team

Take everything you’ve done prior to this point and present it to all stakeholders of your project. Identify the stalled project, share your vision of what ‘done’ looks like and explain how and why you’re clearing the roadblocks. Rally people around your cause by showing them why this project matters.

When you have your team’s passion fuelling it, it’s a lot easier to breathe life back into your project.

Have you ever dealt with a stuck project? Why was it stuck and how did you restart it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Bruno Cordioli, cc

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