Programme recovery, why you need it and how to spot the warning signs

Many companies will recognise the need for programme recovery, but often too late to positively impact the outcome and turn it around. Spotting the signs early and making the right interventions are crucial to ensuring you get the results you need.


Programme recovery, also known as project recovery or project rescue, refers to the process of salvaging a failing or troubled project to bring it back on track and achieve its intended objectives successfully. When a project faces significant issues, such as missed deadlines, budget overruns, scope creep, or a decline in performance, it may require definitive intervention and recovery efforts to prevent complete failure or to ensure some value is extracted from the investment made thus far.


Many projects, despite their challenges, can still deliver value if the right recovery measures are undertaken. The alterative of abandoning your Programme/Project will lead to wasted investment and lost opportunities.



Signs of a Failing Programme


It is not always clear at what point in time programme recovery and intervention are needed, but there are usually clear signs that all is not well and initiating a recovery is something you should consider. Some of the most common early signs of issues can include:


  • Missed Milestones: frequent or consistent missing of project milestones and deadlines is a clear warning sign of potential trouble.


  • Budget Overruns: the project’s actual costs exceeding the budgeted amounts indicate financial mismanagement.


  • Poor Communication: inadequate communication among team members, stakeholders, or project managers can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.


  • Scope Creep: uncontrolled expansion of project scope beyond the original plan can strain resources and derail the project.


  • Quality Issues: repeated defects, errors, or unsatisfactory outputs may signal underlying problems.


  • Low Team Morale: a disengaged, or demotivated project team can impact productivity and overall project performance.


  • Lack of Risk Management: ignoring or mishandling project risks can lead to severe consequences later in the Lifecyle.


  • Changing Requirements: frequent changes in project requirements (or a lack of them) without proper evaluation of the impact can disrupt project progress.


  • Ineffective Leadership: weak project management and leadership can contribute to project failure.


  • Stakeholder Dissatisfaction: unaddressed concerns or dissatisfaction among key stakeholders can hinder progress.



Effective Monitoring is Key to spotting the Warning Signs


To spot warning signs effectively, it is important to establish consistent monitoring and assessment, project stakeholders should:


  • Regularly review project performance against established metrics, schedules, and budgets.


  • Conduct project status meetings and encourage open communication among team members.


  • Assess the confidence of the delivery team and seek to identify whether this is backed up by tangible progress.


  • Analyse project risks and assess their potential impact on the project’s success.


  • Engage stakeholders and clients for feedback on project progress and satisfaction levels.


  • Monitor team morale and address any issues related to motivation and teamwork.


  • Stay alert to external factors like changing market conditions, regulatory requirements, etc.


  • Implement project management tools to track project progress and identify trends.



Deciding on the right course of action


Once one or more of the warning signs are identified, it’s crucial to act promptly and develop a comprehensive recovery plan. Programme recovery typically involves re-evaluating project goals, revising the project plan, reassigning responsibilities, providing additional resources, and engaging with stakeholders to ensure everyone is aligned on the revised approach. It may also require seeking external expertise or hiring project recovery specialists to assist with the process.


When facing programme recovery, it’s essential to take systematic steps to identify issues, prioritise actions, and implement solutions effectively.


Here are the top 10 actions to start when doing programme recovery:


#1 Assess the Situation: understand the current state of the programme, including its objectives, scope, budget, and schedule. Identify the major issues that led to the programme’s challenges or failure, establish metrics that demonstrate the problem and allow corrections to be measured.


#2 Engage Stakeholders: communicate with all relevant stakeholders, including sponsors, clients, team members, and end-users. Get their input on the problems and potential solutions.


#3 Assemble a Recovery Team: form a dedicated team with experienced members who can objectively assess the situation, make decisions, and execute the recovery plan.


#4 Root Cause Analysis: conduct a thorough root cause analysis to identify the underlying issues and factors that contributed to the programme’s problems. Address these issues at their source.


#5 Redefine Objectives and Priorities: revisit the programme’s objectives and redefine priorities based on the current situation. Focus on delivering the most critical and achievable components first.


#6 Develop a Recovery Plan: create a detailed recovery plan that outlines specific actions, timelines, responsibilities, and performance metrics. Ensure that the plan is realistic and achievable.


#7 Address Resource Gaps: identify any resource shortages or skill gaps and take measures to address them. This may involve reallocating resources, hiring new talent, or providing additional training.


#8 Consider implementing Agile Practices: adopt Agile project management methodologies to increase flexibility, responsiveness, and collaboration within the team.


#9 Manage Risks Proactively: identify potential risks and put measures in place to mitigate or respond to them promptly. Regularly review and update the risk management strategy.


#10 Monitor and Communicate Progress: continuously monitor the progress of the recovery plan and communicate updates to stakeholders transparently. Be ready to make adjustments if needed.



Remember that programme recovery can be a complex and challenging process. It requires strong leadership, effective communication, and a willingness to learn from past mistakes. Stay committed to the recovery plan and maintain a positive attitude to guide the programme back to success, it’s not about assigning blame.



Monitoring the recovery


As part of the assessment, it is useful to collect metrics to provide a view of the issues, whether that be slippage, delivery velocity, output, defects or another objective measure that can be reassessed once the recovery actions are in progress.


The specific metrics and methods for measuring recovery depend on the nature of the programme and the requirements of the system.


It’s important to note that the metrics and measurements for programme recovery can vary depending on the context, the criticality of the programme, and the business requirements. Regularly reviewing and improving recovery processes can help ensure the resilience and reliability of the system.



Do you need change expertise?


Organisations often have all their resources assigned to the delivery work and do not have the bandwidth to step back and take an objective look at the issues and define necessary steps to deliver an effective recovery.


Project One has significant collective experience across a diverse set of delivery programmes and we know what works and what doesn’t. We can give an objective assessment and recommend an approach that will address the issues underpinning the problem and provide a recovery plan that can be monitored and executed. Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more.

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