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Tips for Identifying the Walking Dead

My last article focused on how project managers can deal with the fall out and other changes brought about as a result of a project termination decision. This might have been perceived as putting the cart before the horse as it assumes that organizations have well defined criteria that are used to decide which projects should be terminated. Unfortunately, most organizations are haunted by the undead corpses of those projects that have survived long past their useful life. A contributing factor to the proliferation of these zombies is the lack of objective criteria as well as inconsistent decision-making regarding project termination.

In this economic climate, the inability to consistently terminate projects is competitive disadvantage as it robs organizations of the ability to focus on high value projects that will help them survive a downturn and come out much stronger on the other side than their competitors.

To improve the consistency of project termination decisions, introduce an impartial project delivery assurance process that gets executed on all active projects (over a certain size) on a quarterly basis. This delivery assurance process could look for the following tell-tale signs of “rigor mortis”:

  1. The project’s business benefits (tangible or not) are not expected until the end of time.
  2. The project sponsor never existed, is the Invisible Man, or has entered the Witness Protection Program.
  3. Ask the question of your portfolio steering committee or of all Department heads – will you care if this project gets axed. If no one says “yes” or no one can remember the rationale for the project, get it off the books!
  4. Ask the question of the sponsor (if you’ve located him/her) – “Would you initiate this project today?” See if they can look you in the eyes when they answer “Yes”…
  5. The achievement of the project’s business benefits is heavily tied to external factors or to the successful completion of high risk internal initiatives.
  6. (Re)do a risk/reward evaluation of the project (which had hopefully been done prior to the project being approved) – if the project now looks more like a dead dog than a cash cow, you’ve found a winner!

Do you see a trend? None of the questions I’ve asked are using traditional ways of evaluating project health – this does not mean that are ignoring earned value management, the triple constraint and your issue logs, but we simply can’t afford to have successful operations, but dead (or undead) patients.

Given how morbid my last two articles have been, you may wish to read my article on identifying valuable projects ( – it certainly is more upbeat!

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