5 things to do when a project goes wrong

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Posted on Tuesday, 5th June, 2018 - 17:28

When you work in project management, occasionally after a weekend’s rest you’ll come into work with a smile on your face and continue on the project that you spent countless hours planning, and realise you’re fighting a losing battle. When this happens, how do you know when to abandon the project and what the best practice is? The following are useful hints and tips you can implement when a project goes wrong:

1. Show leadership and stay calm

To stop uncertainty turning into panic, listen to people’s concerns as soon as they arise, rather than waiting until the project is failing. Keeping your composure means accountability issues can be focussed on in more detail at the review stage. Try and focus on solutions rather than the problems and be transparent. Communicate honestly to everyone, whether this involves a short phone call or email letting them know you have a plan in place. This will ensure there are no surprises further down the line.

2. Avoid throwing in more resources

It’s a common reaction when problems surface to throw more money, time and resources into the project, but this isn’t necessarily the best thing to do. Try to consider how much time and money it will take for the project to pay off. The best thing here is to appreciate what has been achieved so far and, although the outcome isn’t what was anticipated, save more money being thrown at a project that’s been given plenty of resource and hasn’t worked.

3. Have a back-up plan in place

When setting up a project, checkpoints should be established at the planning stage so that, if the project appears to be failing, there are exit points where you can discard the project with minimal impact. It’s important to have a Plan B in place, as your company may be dependent on this project’s success. This is crucial in a B2B environment where deadlines have to be met.

4. Review and focus on the preferred outcome

It’s key to have a cooling off period after the project has fully settled so everyone has a clear approach to the review stages. The review could involve everyone suggesting one thing they did well and what they would do differently. Then, try to evaluate approaches to future projects, including considering knock-on effects to other activities in the project plan, and the costs and risks of each.

5. Set up training and follow up

After identifying the issues, you should look at how your team can move forward and learn from these mistakes. You could set team members personal improvements to work on. Try compiling a checklist from all the points raised in your review and provide training in any areas that people are short. This will foster your team’s confidence in the organisation’s willingness to fill any gaps in knowledge. Most importantly, don’t try to solve everything at once.


The truth is that, in project management, some projects do and will continue to go wrong. It just takes a good project manager to keep everyone calm and handle the situation well. After all, a leader will take it all as experience and understand that it’s all part of being a project manager.


Project management skills and leadership are a key part of our specially developed e-learning. Our CAPM certificate enables managers to create thorough plans and gives you the know-how to manage large scale projects. To learn more about our CAPM online course, click here.