The ways to cancel a project

There may be “fifty ways to leave your lover”, but many organizations can’t find even one way to cancel or suspend a project. Despite often being ‘the right thing to do’, cancelling a project – or even suggesting that a project should be cancelled – is typically an act of intelligent disobedience. Having a sound, substantial rationale for recommending the cancellation of a project can help.

Here are some commonly accepted reasons for cancelling or suspending a project:

  • Key Stakeholders are not “bought in”. Not only is this a very good reason for project cancellation, but they can also provide you with assistance and support when recommending the cancellation. By the way, this does not necessarily mean the project is not a good idea; it just means important people that are critical for the project’s success aren’t behind it. Time to cancel or suspend the project and regroup.
  • Current business priorities do not support moving the project forward. Business is fluid, and project portfolios need to be fluid as well. If sponsorship, business expertise or technical team members aren’t available to move the project forward it is time to confirm the priorities driving their workload. If their other activities are legitimately of higher importance, it is time to cancel or suspend the project. A project in this situation is a burden and a distraction, versus a vehicle for driving business value and it should be taken off the table.
  • Reacting to a sudden, new business pressure is the “agile” thing to do. I don’t mean running an agile project here; I mean being able and willing to change directions quickly in response to differing business needs. Having the patience to change gears on one item (suspending a project), and “embracing the urgency” to launch a different project or initiative can demonstrate a dedication to your business’ success that many people are unwilling, or find it difficult, to support.
  • Key stakeholder’s expectations are not aligned. This situation is often a silent project killer. Debates that need to be held don’t occur and, after wasting too much time and money, a project dies a fiery death as progress is halted when senior leaders expect the project team to do different things, or place emphasis on different activities. (See our “What we need is a good ole’ knock down debate” blog entry) Projects in this state should be suspended until alignment is reached, or killed if that alignment cannot be achieved and signed off.
  • The project just isn’t heading in the right direction. Our colleague Peter Harrison is fond of saying,” it is not the dollars you HAVE spent, it is the value you will get from the NEXT dollar you will spend that should drive your decisions.” If the project is not moving forward on a path towards delivering business value, you need to correct its course or cancel the project. This is the most difficult of cancellation reasons, as it is frequently perceived as a defeat, and could jeopardise jobs. However it is the high integrity thing to do…PMI members-check your ethics commitment here! If the project is not helping the business, and you continue to pursue the project, you may not be acting in a “high integrity” fashion.

Mindavation delivers workshops on sponsorship and conducting difficult conversations, both of which are crucial in the cancelling of a project.We can also help you recovery a troubled project so possibly, you won’t have to cancel it. For further information, email us at You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at or

What we need is a good ole’ knock down debate

As one of our clients was lamenting recently, a statement he made struck me. He said ”the launch of this project was proceeding so well, and then this debate suddenly surfaced!”

When I heard this, I was actually relieved. One of the more significant issues with projects is that people think they will be easier than they actually will be. Many people don’t understand that a significant change will occur as a result of the project, particularly when it is early in the project lifecycle. As the project moves forward, often the protests and angst surface later when you are on an agreed schedule, have contractors punching time against your project budget, and can’t easily afford delays.

So, I was indeed relieved to hear the debates had started early. Project launch is the perfect time to surface and address the stressors that project change brings to an organization.

Here are a few tips to trigger early, productive debates around your projects:

  • Layout the “final result.” Statements that can be helpful are “so when we are done with the project your department will do x, y and z differently. How do you intend on transitioning Carla, Sal and Paul from their current roles to new ones?” These questions can help you show the substance of the change sooner versus later.
  • Find potentially conflicting stakeholder objectives and propose specific targets against those objectives. If your stakeholder in marketing wants to spend 20% more with a target of increasing their customer base by 40%, that may sound like a good deal. However, if your comptroller has an objective to cut any increases in spending across the board, the 20% increase from marketing won’t sit well. These situations need to be tabled early; and the debate fully conducted!
  • Take the end customers view. Ask, “will these changes be transparent, or what needs to be done to ensure they are transparent to your customers?” If the changes AREN’T intended to be transparent, ask “how are you going to educate and transition your customers to the new processes and approaches?”
  • Where is the budget coming from, is it funded, and when is it available? One of the best ways to have a sponsor or stakeholder say “no” – versus you having to veto something – is to ask about the available funding. Nothing is totally free, so budget impacts need to be understood and discussed earlier versus later.

Seeking conflict as a means of resolving potential disagreements before they become bigger project issues is a great way to ensure your stakeholders understand the road ahead of them. It can also reduce your overall project risk, and keep you from being in the middle of a management battle over what YOU are doing.

Mindavation provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership and managing conflict appropriately. We can help you and your teams design and set up your projects to achieve better outcomes. For further information, email us at You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at or .

Guaranteeing our Work as Project Professionals

A daunting concept has been rattling in my mind recently…and it has been rattling loud enough for me to restart this Intelligent Disobedience blog. I look forward to sharing and hearing your thoughts on these entries that I intend to post on a regular basis!

We fully expect a guarantee for the work we receive from a plumber, electrician, or our automobile mechanic. However, guaranteeing our work as project professionals is not something we hear about – nor even contemplate – very often.

On the one hand, my brain is screaming out – but the circumstances are different! We have minimal control of the environment in which we work to deliver projects. In contrast, a plumber has very few variables out of his control, and can quickly and easily test his results and adjust things as required.

But, my mind keeps ticking over…on the other hand, what if we DID have control of the project environment variables or we could pose a set of conditions that – if they were established and remained in place – would inspire us as project professionals to guarantee successful project delivery? What would those conditions look like?

Well, here is my first pass at what the conditions would have to be to consider this “unconsiderable” risk:

  • A sponsor with a stake in the game, the authority to bring and keep resources on the project, the funding to sustain the project appropriately and the time to provide regular support and guidance;
  • A project schedule in line with the priority of other projects in the portfolio and the BAU support needs of the organization;
  • An “all cards on the table” truth environment where project issues and risks could be discussed openly without hidden agendas clouding the situation;
  • Documented and agreed upon project outcome priorities and success criteria, clearly summarized in 100 words or less (rather than embedded throughout an 85 page project charter). These would have to be signed off by all major stakeholders including senior managers, customers and representative end users of the project outcomes;
  • Skills in the project team, with experience in the business or technology area required to produce the project’s product(s);
  • Enthusiastic “change champions”, at a 15:1 ratio to those affected by the changes brought about by the project;
  • The ability to produce project products every 90 days to ensure the project requirements and results do not become “stale or outdated” over time;
  • Adequate time and funding allowed for project management – 15-18% of the overall task time projected to produce the project’s products and lastly;
  • The ability to reassess all of the above conditions every 45-60 days to ensure the “guarantee” would remain in place.

Maybe I am painting a picture of “project management heaven” here…but I can say this: whenever I am asked to deliver a project, I usually work on establishing these criteria before I reach for the computer and open up my project scheduling tool, or start working on any other project artifacts. And when I can get a reasonable picture of these criteria– the project results are consistently good.

And if your project doesn’t meet all of the above criteria, you can have a meaningful conversation with your sponsor about the risks your project will bear – and you just might get a few more things to get your project closer to a “work guarantee” situation.

So what conditions have I missed that prevent us from issuing a “work guarantee”? I look forward to your thoughts!

Mindavation provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership. We can help you and your teams establish and drive projects in a more ideal set of conditions. For further information, email us at You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at <> or <> .

Are you serious about collaboration?

Milestones are a key part of a project manager’s arsenal, helping affirm schedule control and facilitating easier reporting to senior leaders. Typically, project managers focus on deliverable production when building milestones, which is reasonable. However, the focus on deliverable based milestones can reduce the focus on other important aspects of the project. With collaboration being a significant focus in projects – especially in a world trying to be “agile”, collaboration items not only need to be included in the milestone reporting by project managers, but they need to be KEY milestones requiring special attention, especially in the early and later stages of the project.

Why this prominence? As businesses seek to move faster and produce project results more quickly, ensuring that project teams and the clients they serve have common views becomes more important, but also more difficult. All stakeholders should be focused on creating a product that is easily and readily usable when produced by the project team. Effective and timely collaboration is critical for this to occur. Delays in achieving effective collaboration should be clearly indicated as potential delays in producing complete products, or in partial production of expected outcomes. To highlight deliverables with milestones, and not highlight collaboration tasks equally can serve to reduce the emphasis on the need for successful collaboration. In turn this may place undue and potentially risky focus on simply delivering things on time, versus delivering the RIGHT THINGS that will be usable by your clients.

Are you using the right set of milestones on your projects? Is your organisation focusing on the wrong things because of the milestones you publish and track?

Mindavation provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on communication techniques, including the use of milestones, and has been doing so for over 13 years. For further information, email us at <> . You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at <> or <

Low Hanging Fruit

We have all said it to ourselves, often many times. It would be easier if I just fixed __________. (fill in the blank as you see fit). Things would be easier if we just standardised or worked on getting _______ right. (Go ahead, you know you have an answer for that blank too!)

As we talk with clients across the globe we often hear the phrase “we have picked all of the low hanging fruit.” Additional savings it seems can only be found through more pervasive and difficult change initiatives. Our common response to this claim is, “I doubt it – let’s see if we can find some opportunities.” Although these larger change initiatives can result in positive results, it is rare that we don’t find savings in those “nagging business process improvements” that can be easily identified by project managers and their team members.

Sometimes it is fixing a neglected estimation process (have you established a habit to go back and check your actual cost and time consumed against the original estimates?). In other instances it is establishing a quick, concise project review process to consider suspending or cancelling projects that have drifted from their original purpose or have outlasted their useful life in some manner.

It is rare that additional savings can not be found; and in this pressure filled economic environment every advantage should be sought to balance budgets, increase profits or decrease costs.

Are you struggling with budget pressures?

We can help you find or fix the hidden (sometimes) fruit in your project management and delivery processes.

Mindavation team members have been involved in program & project delivery for over 20 years. Our consulting services include assistance in the planning, transition and execution of project and change management programs. For details, email us at

You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at or