Killing Projects is a Good Thing

The flip side of this coin, however, is if it will cost more to cancel the project than see it through. Then the answer is obvious: Get it done and move on as quickly as possible so minimal resources are wasted.


The ability to kill projects indicates a mature project management process is in place, said Jeff Monteforte, owner of Exential, a Cleveland-Ohio based project management consultancy. But, boys will be boys, and maturity is something hard to find at many companies. Too often, projects are not stage-gated, e.g. viewed at different times along the way to determine go/no-go status. Also, frameworks such as the CMM (capability maturity model for software development (now replaced by the CMMI – capability maturity model for integration)) or portfolio project management (PPM) are non-existent. This leads to an absence of objectivity in the project review process—if there is one.

To remedy this situation, even if CMM or PPM are not in use, is fairly straightforward, said Tandem’s Wyman. When he was working as a consultant, one of his clients set up quarterly meetings with all of the projects managers, project sponsors and need-to-know exec’s to go over what projects were in the pipeline, where they were at and whether they should continue. Good preparation meant this meeting lasted no more than two days and, because of the cross-communication between the business and IT, sound decision-making was facilitated.

“If you can set that up so that it only takes a day or two of time and it only takes a couple of days to prepare for it, you can step back and be able take a look at your entire portfolio of projects and be able make an evaluation” of what is really going on, he said.

Another, less tactful approach to the lack of proper project management is to put together “Hit Squads” that are charged with putting off-the-track projects back on track. This is a much more painful approach than the one outlines above and will undoubtedly lead to hurt feelings and loss of goodwill, but, said Monteforte, the project will get done.

“They beat up the vendors, they beat up the development team, there’s lots of dead bodies on the side of the road when they are done,” he said.

It is better than nothing but that’s hardly justification for relying this approach for project management. It is far better to facilitate good, lasting relationships with your business peers that will ease future project management issues and failings. A PPM approach, for example, puts the onus on the business to a) justify in business terms why a project needs to be done in the first place and b) allows the CIO to move out of reactionary mode to become more proactive, said Monteforte.

If you’re not using them already, there are many frameworks and methodologies to get you started, said Tandem’s Wyman.

“The techniques we use are techniques you can use both externally and internally and should use,” he said. “There should always be these feedback loops. I’ve never been one to believe in the big-bang theory: In the last day everything comes together and the whole world is happy.”