Something happened to me recently that has never happened before…

I was managing a project for several months, and even though the risks were pointing in this direction, and I was doing my best to mitigate them, we reached what seemed like an impasse—the project was just. Well. Stuck.

I stewed over this one. Many stressful days and sleepless nights.

This project was a major initiative and dependency for other crucial projects in the organization’s roadmap.

The team looked to me for advice, but I didn’t have any advice to give. I could only lay out the solutions on the table, and the pros, cons, and risks of each, and help facilitate making a decision.

The project’s subject matter was also super technical, and the project lead had more knowledge of the data and risks involved as well as institutional knowledge than anyone else.

And even she was stuck.

Everyone was stuck.

But we had to get unstuck.

Fellow project managers, maybe this has happened to you before. Maybe you have remediation tactics to get a project back on track.

Leaders, maybe you’ve been frustrated with your project team due to the lack of progress made on a project. Or maybe you feel like the entire project is at a loss.

Project Management Tips for Getting Projects Back on Track

Through some research, pushing, and, well, good ‘ol fashioned trial and error, here are some tactics I implemented to get the project back on track.

1. Figure out what went wrong.

Project management

Some might argue that this is counterproductive. After all, what good would it do to spend time figuring out what went wrong when we could be figuring out a solution? I get it. However, understanding what caused the project to veer off track in the first place allows project team members and stakeholders to not only learn what to correct to avoid the risks of similar derailments in the future.

The most common causes of derailment include the following:

– Miscommunications, misinterpretations, and other misinformation

– Vague or unclear requirements

– Scope creep

If you aren’t sure of the exact source of derailment, then you can perform a root cause analysis (ask the “5 Whys”).

2. Revisit the original project plan, objectives, and requirements.

This step may coincide with step one. Once you have discovered a project has veered off track, first review the original project goals and objectives to determine the level of deviation you have encountered. You might also have to remind your project team of the original objectives and requirements. This is even more relevant for projects with longer timelines.

When in doubt, trace requirements to ensure all stakeholders are on the same page and those requirements are crystal clear. You can use user stories to detail, clarify, and crystallize requirements.

3. Review your resources.

Do you have the right resources needed to achieve project outcomes? Sometimes resource availability can shift during a project. In other cases, you might need to take a step back, revisit your current resources, and ask yourself if you still have the right resources to meet the original requirements and complete the project.

Introducing new or different resources halfway through a project is always risky, but it might be necessary to get the project done, come hell or high water.

4. Look for new solutions.

If your project team reaches an impasse, it might be time to think outside the box and brainstorm new and different solutions. Hold a brainstorming session, set goals, and develop evaluation criteria for assessing new ideas and possible solutions.

5. Adjust the scope of work.

In other cases, the original project scope may not work for one reason or another. Perhaps certain circumstances have changed and are no longer realistic for a project. In these cases, you might need to adjust or downgrade the scope.

6. Develop a new timeline.

Regardless of the situation, or what events occurred that threw off the project in the first place, once you determine a new solution or a better path forward, you will need to develop a new timeline and schedule.

To do this, re-evaluate the work activities that are still relevant that still need to be done and develop a new and improved, and more realistic schedule.

7. Monitor and manage requirements. 

Managing a project is one thing, but managing project requirements is quite another. It is an added element of complexity to managing a project effectively. And as a project manager? You can’t do it alone. It requires working closely with a project owner, subject matter experts, and a core project team to help you define, translate, and trace requirements accurately.

Implementing a requirements management tool can help. Some applications include Confluence and Jama.

8. Dig and push for answers.

The joke is that project managers have all the responsibility but none of the authority. Humorous, yes, but there’s also an element of As a project manager, sometimes it’s necessary to dig and push for the answers you need to push a project forward. That might mean escalating issues up the “food chain” to get answers or certain decisions made. Yes, you might overstep your boundaries, but sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Hit the “Reset” Button

Can you unstick a project overnight? Probably not. It could take several weeks to investigate, perform a root cause analysis, research solutions, and get buy-in from the project team. However, it is possible, especially if you are a persistent project leader.

Do you need to get a “stuck” project un-stuck? Here are some signs you might need to hit the “reset” button and how to do that