Project crises and crisis projects – mechanisms and ways out

By Dr.-Ing. Martin Kraus //

Even under perfect conditions, projects and programmes run into difficulties. Initial problems – which may be understandable and quite typical for projects – can be overcome. As work progresses, however, they turn into project crises. Project crises develop into crisis projects.

A project crisis emerges if either the “what” (e.g. aim of the project, product requirements, targeted/confirmed properties) or the “how” (e.g. methods, technologies, resources) are not (or no longer) clear. Furthermore, uncertainties about the “what” can ultimately lead to questioning the “how”.

Often the mechanisms preventing early discovery of an emerging project crisis are due to a lack of implementation of generally accepted project management principles. They can, however, also result from the project environment, e.g. company culture. Or the crisis was almost unavoidable because the prerequisites were misconceived at project release.

The more severe the crisis – in the worst case, the project is already in chaos mode -, the tougher the measures required to manage a turnaround. If the project is no longer profitable or the customer has fully lost his trust, a project cancellation needs to be considered. But even such a cancellation should follow a structured approach.

In-depth project reviews, a project audit or a project supervision can lead to an early discovery and understanding of the real situation and point to a crisis. Calling in external experts with experience in project management and complex programmes can be a valuable support. The further the crisis has already progressed, the more important it is to support the project manager and the project team with an outside view.

The “Project Status Indicator Check” (ProSIC) enables you to get a first understanding of the situation without external support and/or detailed knowledge about the project or product.

In his article, ACTRANS partner Dr Martin Kraus discusses various aspects around the emergence and solution of problems in complex projects and product developments. He refers to his almost three decades of experience in the Aerospace & Defence world and the successful delivery of several crisis projects.

At ACTRANS, we provide our customers with project reviews and audits, project supervisions and even operational project support including takeover of project management responsibilities on a temporary basis during turnaround phases.

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