What Happens When The Project Dollars Are Gone?

what happens when the project dollars are goneI realize that most project engagements have the funding for the effort locked in from the moment the paperwork is signed and planning starts to get underway. It’s part of your project client’s budget for that year or however many years the project is planned to stretch through. And if it’s an internal project, the same is usually true – lots of planning and budget forecasting has already happened and the money is there to kickoff and execute the project.

However, this is not always true. I have personally found out – the hard way – that this is not always the case and you may not know that until you run into budget problems on the project – even if they are caused by the delivery team. It can be a real concern – and not just with startups and SMBs who are more likely to sometimes be living from corporate paycheck to corporate paycheck. It can happen to the giant projects and the giant customers.

So what happens if the project funding goes away? Can you ever resurrect the project? If that looks like a possibility, how do you then position yourself to be ready to ramp up and restart the project at a later date? If it’s unlikely, then what do you do to leave everything on the best terms possible?

I’ve been through this once on a large project and nearly through this a few other times for various customer or project related reasons. Here are the best steps that I’ve come up with for handling a potential project shut down and leaving things ready to start again should more funding become available in the future and it is still a viable project and need…

Discuss with the sponsor. First, meet with the project client so as to fully understand the situation and/or reason for shutdown. Is it really funds or is it something in your control – meaning is there anything that can be done to prevent this from happening. Anything is better than a complete shutdown. If so, try to take corrective action. If not, then move on to the next step.

Freeze time on paper (or electronically) for future reference. Document everything possible as it is today. Update your project schedule – make sure everything is completely up to date as it stands today. Get task statuses from both your team and your project customer. Complete any other outstanding documentation that should be finished that will be necessary to have if and when the project resumes.

Conduct a final status discuss with all stakeholders. Take your project schedule and a final status report to a sit down meeting or conference call with your team and client. Gain consensus from everyone that the project status – as it stands today – is correctly documented and that the project status report correctly identifies the reason for the project stoppage. Discuss with the customer if anything with funding has changed or if they for see it changing at some point so that the project can resume. Trust me, your executive management is going to want to know this – if they aren’t already on that call with you and the customer.

Make team plans for the future. The next step is to both formally release the team for work on other projects but to also secure their time to resume work on this project if the customer has given you a likely window of time for the project restarting. This is a very difficult, but important step because the worst thing you can do is to have no one left from the previous project team available if and when this project resumes. Documentation is important – that’s why you make sure that gets done in step 2 above. But it won’t fully transfer all project knowledge – it’s very important to have one or more key resources available for the project restart so that you can get back on track as quickly as possible and financially efficiently as possible.

Summary / call for input

All things must eventually come to an end – though this is never how we want a project or consulting engagement to end. However, it is sometimes a reality. And how we handle the exit strategy will help determine how successful any project restart may be so we must plan well and be careful.

How about our readers? What your experiences with situations like this and what are your strategies for shutting down the project professionally with the client? Please share and discuss.

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
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*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
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