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Managing Troubled Projects


This best practice offers guidelines on managing, recovering, and preventing troubled projects. 

How to recognize a troubled project

A project should not be classified as "troubled" if the question is a matter of "How to finish quickly" or "How to catch up."  A troubled project is one in which the project is in reasonable danger of even being completed at all, at least within an acceptable timeline or cost. Moreover, if a project has a 50% or greater chance of failure, author and noted software guru Edward Yourdon classifies such a project as a "death march." Clearly, troubled projects need special attention, and "death march" projects often require drastic action.

Common characteristics of a failing project include:

  • Vague, unclear objectives
  • Lack of executive sponsorship
  • A project team with no idea when the project will finish
  • Excessive number of product defects
  • Team members who are working an excessive amount of hours
  • Management who cannot ascertain the project’s status
  • Loss of customer confidence
  • Project team is defensive regarding progress
  • Relations between development and other organizational units are strained
  • Team moral is low

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