I have written previously about the fact that projects can be stopped for good reasons. Businesses must be transparent about why projects are stopped to ensure that all parties understand the reasons and agree on the right course of action. Communication within an organisation must be managed carefully so that all key stakeholder groups receive the exact same message. This should include:
Why was the project stopped?
What will happen to the work that has been completed? Can it be reworked?
What will happen next?
This last point is especially important. This is why the project was created: to solve a specific business problem. If the project fails to solve that problem, it can still be solved. It is important for companies to be clear about the steps that will be taken to resolve this issue. Customers of the project should be assured that their concerns have not been forgotten.
Sometimes, the project will be stopped due to a problem that has simply disappeared. This could be due to a change in law, selling a subsidiary or withholding a product from sale. These are rare. It is rare for this to happen. Organisations should explain why the project is not necessary and offer some transfer of learning. This will ensure that employees who have put their time and effort into the project don’t feel like they wasted their time.
External communication about failed or stopped projects is not something I can advise. The PR department of an organisation can better assess the media situation and offer advice specific for each case; just make sure to get them involved at the right moment.
It is not surprising that some projects fail, given that it is difficult to predict the outcome of projects. This paper will examine why some projects fail and why it can sometimes be a good idea to stop them. Managers don’t worry about the possibility that projects might fail when they start them. They are more concerned with the success of their project.
Because projects do something different, they are different from business as normal. Business as usual allows you to take yesterday’s performance and use that as a guide for tomorrow. Projects don’t work this way. Yesterday’s performance cannot be used as a guide for tomorrow’s performance, much less an accurate one. This is what makes managing projects so fun and such a challenge for organisations.