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Exit Stage Left

I’ve just been involved in planning the end of a project. You might even say that we killed it before it got off the ground. At the same time, I’m helping to author a service level agreement which, of course, includes a service termination clause. And, it happens that the termination clause in this case is forcing some interesting research.

Both of these experiences have brought project closure–the exit strategy–to mind. We’ve been paying more attention in the last few years to this aspect of project and resource planning: how responsibly to extricate ourselves from engagements or investments which are no longer in the best interests of our organization or our stakeholders.

The ability to recognize the right time to take such an action can seem like a trick. Absent a defining or precipitous event, what you are faced with is an accumulation of evidence that, in fact, requires a rational evaluation. To some extent, you can build this capacity by identifying–in advance–a decision-making process that fits your organizational culture and creating a simple set of steps leading to a exit/no exit decision.

Several software development shops have created flow charts depicting such processes. This one ( from CIO|Insight is readily available but is, in my view, overly complicated. I think the most important decision points are:

  • does the sponsor still support the project?
  • does the project still fit within your strategic direction?
  • is it technologically viable?
  • are your end-users involved, and have their needs been taken into consideration?

Another recent offering, from @Task, adds a list of warning signs of failing projects. I like this one: the “‘no-bad-news’ environment.”

If you decide to pull the plug, then the work of closure starts. You must inform your stakeholders in a manner that strengthens your relationship, if at all possible. After all, you are making a difficult but smart decision on their behalf. Equally, if you determine to carry on with the troubled project, then this is the moment when you must develop a plan for recovery. Leaving things in a troubled state is not what anyone wants.

In effect, either way you decide, you’ll be choosing to change the current circumstances for the better. And that’s what everyone wants.