80 responses to “Taking Over Someone Else’s Mess”

  1. JKen_H

    “Re-baseline” is the textbook word, but really what it saying is reset expectations. What and where the project was supposed to be at this point is a disappointment, likely to everyone involved, but you can’t turn the clock back. It’s largely immaterial. As soon as you can get all the stakeholders on board with a where do we go from here plan, and out of lamenting (and often assigning blame) mode, the sooner you can deliver.

    Remember, you’ve been brought in as a savior, you have instant credibility. (Deserving or not!) Use that capital well to define what can be still delivered/salvaged and you’ll come out as well as you went in.

    1. begeland

      You’re right…you have instant credibility but you’re also going to be on a pretty short leash. Progress will be expected almost day one – especially if this has been going on for some time. Yes, you can’t turn back the clock, but you’re almost creating a ‘new’ project. Where are we now? What’s left to do? What do we absolutely have to do? Can we cut some things out? And let’s prioritize what’s left and create almost a new project schedule/plan for what remains.

      Brad Egeland

  2. Donna Bandal

    It is important to be flexible, while laying down the law. If you are expected to pick up where someone left off, you have to get all the information necessary and do it quickly and efficiently to hit the ground running. In the event you are lacking an expert PMO Director or any kind of director-ship thereof..it’s up to you to get the best download about the project available and be as well-equipped-as possible to move it forward. Unfortunately, I have fell victim to the so called “dumping” numerous times. Here’s my best advise: 1-Get a quick handle on the deliverables needed–map them out. Create charts. 2-At the same time, obtain your timeline. 3-Assess what is do-able. What can you accomplish within the given parameters? Don’t be afraid to eliminate items that will prevent you from being successful in managing the project. 4-Continue to communicate to your team about your milestones accomplished and any bottlenecks that might possibly prevent you from meeting your deadline, keeping within budget and producing a quality job. 5-Be transparent–and share successes. Document carefully for any post-reviews and QA checks. And, finally, don’t be afraid to let management know what a great job you did on the “clean-up” crew so they know you are capable of handling projects out of the norm.

    1. begeland

      Great points. I completely agree….too much dumping can be counterproductive. Get what’s important and use that first…otherwise you’ll feel buried. It would be nice to have the outgoing project manager available, but when it’s a mess then they are usually long gone…or on some sort of suspension…ouch. So then it’s your team or a PMO director if they have their head in the game. Usually the team is the best source unless they too were part of the problem.

      And good point on eliminating what’s not important. It may be time to shave down the scope and get down what CAN be done now. And then discuss/negotiate with the customer on whether the rest is necessary and if it is, can it be done next month or three months from now…etc.

      Brad Egeland

  3. Peter Westerhof

    In my experience even the above is too broad, high level and ambitious. But many very good points.

    Remember, usually everybody – including your wife – knows that it’s a proper mess.

    My 1st line of action is usually :

    1. acknowlegde that it is a mess but it isn’t hopeless ; this is the first step towards solving

    2. KISS

    3. arrange a ‘war room’ ; that is a dedicated room with ample facilities, not a plush office. It’s about getting results, not feel-nice.

    4. decorate the walls with flip-over sheets

    5. start with 4 sheets :
    A- what goes well, and what needs to be done to keep it that way
    B- what goes not so well ; and what needs to be done to improve on that
    C- what is agreed to be accomplished according to the original baseline, and prioritize those according to MoSCoW. The Musts are to be delivered within the original deadline (call it ‘Delivery V1.0). The rest will be delivered within weeks after that in a ‘follow up phase’ (call it ‘Delivery V1.1).
    So a 2-stage rocket approach; Stage 1 to deliver as many of the Musts at the initial agreed delivery date. Whatever can not be completed within Stage 1 will *guaranteed* be delivered in Stage 2 which is to be completed 1 or 2 months after completion of Stage 1.

    This approach usually helps a lot to lessen the worries with higher management (which is often about preventing loss of face).
    D- draft a planning based on work to be completed each week

    For A-D : add owners by personal name.

    6. communicate, communicate, communicate,

    7. invite alle stakeholders to come have a look and improve on the above results. Remember to differentiate between those committed and those involved, start with the first!! It’s about getting results, not feel-nice.

    8. reiterate to next level of improvement and detail

    The above will dampen anxiety and expectations, will raise trust in actual delivery, will force forward any blocking issues, and if it can’t be avoided force forward the decision the kill the project *now*.

    1. begeland

      Good, sound process. I’ve done this – and when necessary, brought the customer onsite (or went onsite to the customer) especially when we’re working through some testing and performance (software/system performance) issues. We needed quick evaluation and acceptance or feedback. Thanks for sharing…
      Brad Egeland

  4. Terry Deane

    This is an interesting article. I recently took over a project with a current client that was in free fall whilst doing my day job. They were trying to solve/do everything all at once. Everything was high priority, the outcome was a complete stall of the project.

    I “shouted” STOP. Whats first, started to sort that and got on track before moving onto the second biggest issue. Then chewed my way through the project unsticking all strands of the project in priority order which was agreed with the customer and client.

    After a couple of months i have a very happy project team, happy customer and a happy client. Its not perfect yet but its on its way. I wish i had the opportunity to take over more projects in trouble.

    1. begeland

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I completely agree. Prioritizing the issues and attacking them sequentially is critical. Multi-tasking – real productive multi-tasking – is next to impossible in the world of project management anyway…especially when you’re performing anything other than mundane activities. What’s most important now? Do that. Then move on to what’s next important…which is what you did and what you have to do in order to make any progress on a mess like that. And it’s the best way to show your progress to your frustrated customer, team and management. Thanks for sharing.
      Brad Egeland

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