Tuesday, 17 November 2009 23:00

Restarting Projects; Get Ready for New Challenges

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restarting-projects1As the economy slowly recovers, project teams are facing an unusual challenge. Management is coming to project offices, and to product managers, and asking them to "restart" projects that were suspended some time ago due to economic concerns.

Restarting a project can be infinitely more complex than starting it originally. The original project plan might have been created with great care over an extended period but the assumptions that play behind the scenes in any project may have changed dramatically. Management may not be aware of the challenges the project might face. Here are just a few:

Those Experts? They're Not Available

The personnel in place when the original project plan was created may no longer be available. They may now be involved in other projects. They might have moved positions and be in other roles within the organization or they might have left the organization altogether during restructuring. It is not uncommon to find that when restructuring is done on a large scale that one of the most common departures are people who are near retirement age. This is particularly true in large organizations. Not surprisingly, these long standing employees often have unique key skills and experience that the project was counting on when the original plan was created. You're going to have to go back to your resource plan to see what has changed and even redo a skills inventory, if there have been big changes.

Those Sub-contractors? They're Doing Something Else

Suppliers of all kinds may have changed in the last two years. That includes sub-contractors that you might have expected would be available at critical moments of your project. Also, the suppliers that you used to deal with often might no longer be in a position to supply the expertise, product or service you were counting on. In some cases, the changes might be positive ones. Some suppliers may have used the intervening time to sharpen their operations and now be in a position to supply what you'd counted on at a reduced cost or with less delay. Either way, you're going to have to go back to any sub-contractor assumptions in your schedule to see what may have changed.

Where's the Funding?

Funding options have dramatically changed in the last two years. Money might not be more expensive to get but it is almost certainly harder to get. This can result in significant challenges getting funding from the same sources or under the same conditions that existed two years ago. If your project is multi-national then funding sources may be even more complex in different jurisdictions.

Game Changing Regulations

While the private sector has had tremendous challenges in the last two years, the public sector has also undergone changes of a different sort. Governments are requiring more transparency in anything they fund, and with so much recovery money coming from governments recently, you may find you have more reporting regulations than you had to deal with previously. Make sure that you do a review of regulatory and permit requirements that may have changed on your project.

Governance

Sounds like government but it's not. Governance is about good management and there's a newfound interest in it in the last two years. "What will we get for our money?" is something that every responsible manager now asks. That's true not just for your own management but also possibly from your client, the bank and the government. Your reporting requirements for your project may have to be adjusted to comply with new requirements.

Return on Investment Factors Have Changed

I've been talking about the "I" in ROI while discussing how the costs of the project may have changed. At the same time it's worthwhile to think for a moment about the business key performance indicators that may have changed. For organizations that use a Stage-Gate structure, the metrics that got the project through one or two gates may no longer be accurate. Is the product or output of this project going to produce the same value as it was expected to when the project was suspended? Are the prospective clients still prepared to pay the same amount or purchase the same volume of the project's product as you had expected in your original business case? This has to be reviewed.

But, it's not all bad news!

For some organizations, a pause or slowdown is an opportunity for the Project Management Office to shore up the project management expertise and tools. Many PMOs I've been in contact with in the last two years have been using the time to expand project training, to deploy project management products, and to develop project management best practices. Some progressive organizations used projected management during the economic downturn as a method of being more efficient. This paid immediate dividends while the company was under pressure to perform more effectively but there are additional dividends to be had as the economy improves.

Being efficient never goes out of style.

As projects need to be restarted in these organizations, the newly developed best practices can be applied along with any new tools. The additional project management training these organizations have acquired can be used to review those old project plans from a new perspective.

As organizations slowly open the taps of production again, it will fall to project management to ensure that we don't assume we can just start up where we left off. It's a relief and a happy day when management makes the call to say, "Time to get restarted."

But...

Re-starting is often going to mean Re-planning.

Don't forget to leave your comments below


Chris Vandersluis is the founder and president of HMS Software based in Montreal, Canada. He has an economics degree from Montreal's McGill University and over 22 years experience in the automation of project control systems. He is a long-standing member of both the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE) and is the founder of the Montreal Chapter of the Microsoft Project Association. Mr. Vandersluis has been published in numerous publications including Fortune Magazine, Heavy Construction News, the Ivey Business Journal, PMI's PMNetwork and Computing Canada. Mr. Vandersluis has been part of the Microsoft Enterprise Project Management Partner Advisory Council since 2003. He teaches Advanced Project Management at McGill University's Executive Institute. He can be reached at chrisv@hmssoftware.ca.

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